27 Apr 2023
Can fiction be a stepping stone to reality?

Press release

Since 2019 Jozef Wouters has shared his Decoratelier in Brussels with Barry Ahmad Talib, an artist from Sagale (Guinee-Conakry). During the long winter months, they gather to cut thousands of leaves out of fabric, for Barry’s tree sculptures. Out of those sessions, they weave a tissue of stories and sounds, and eventually, a piece. Together with a group of builders, musicians, performers and poets, they construct a world between night and day, temporality and future, visibility and invisibility. A Day is a Hundred Years is Jozef Wouters’ most personal work to date. With a turning stage and a scenography that spans both the theater and Decoratelier in different layers, shadows and stories, Jozef and his team create a kind of planetarium within the theater machine. An infinitely mutable and negotiable space which trades the central perspective for a multitude of gazes. A scenography that sees us more than we see it.

As a scenographer and theater maker Jozef Wouters initiates projects that are often connected to a specific location, engaging in a dialogue between spaces, social processes and storytelling. In his long-term research INFINI (2016-now) he asks artists from different disciplines what images they want to show in the theater, and translates these to scenography together with Decoratelier, the alliance of builders, technicians, materials and skills around his practice. Since a few years Decoratelier (Ultima podiumkunsten 2019) is a physical space in a former factory in Brussels, from which Jozef creates his worlds – a.o. through creations such as Underneath Which Rivers Flows (2019 i.s.m. Globe Aroma) – and where he invites others to create their own space via artist residencies, socially engaged projects, performance and nightlife.

Still, Jozef Wouters considers A Day is a Hundred Years as his debut in a way: mid-career, this is the first major piece he signs with his own name. A Day is a Hundred Years is a new step in Jozef’s parcours, an ongoing investigation: how can you answer the questions that a space asks you without making a site-specific piece?

A Day is a Hundred Years coincides with an interesting moment in the development of Decoratelier,’ says Jozef Wouters. ‘Since the pandemic, my work – which includes Decoratelier – has increasingly become a space full of reality. Festivals, artist residencies, a public open-air swimming pool (FLOW, in Brussels), a fixed team… we seemed ready to take the next step, to become an independent organization. A structure that holds things together. Can a performance do the same? Can fiction be a stepping stone to reality? Most of the people who work at Decoratelier have never experienced a creation process. Yet I’m an artist. A storyteller. Can I tempt Decoratelier to continue to invent and renew?’

With A Day is a Hundred Years, Jozef Wouters makes a piece out of the wealth ánd the difficulties of his temporary structure. His protagonist is Barry Ahmad Talib, an artist who traveled from Sagale (Guinee-Conakry) to Belgium five years ago and who got involved with Decoratelier as a participant in the piece Underneath Which Rivers Flow. ‘As artist in residence at Decoratelier, Barry became the guardian of the atelier. Anyone who has been in Decoratelier knows Barry, and vice versa,’ says Jozef Wouters. ‘His faith in imagination as a tool to survive is a fundamental base line of this piece. Last fall, we came together to cut thousands of leaves out of carpet – the time-consuming and attentive work that forms the basis of Barry’s installations. During those long winter days, we listened to music and told each other stories about sleeplessness, loss, dark, light and fears. Those stories and sounds form the tissue from which A Day is a Hundred Years grows.’

In more than one way, Decoratelier is transported to the stage. Barry Ahmad Talib, as well as technical director and right-hand man Menno Vandevelde, light- and sound artist Michiel Soete – who has played an important part in the development of the artistic concepts behind this and other pieces of Jozef Wouters – and production leader Marie Umuhoza were all invited to collaborate on the piece. On stage, Barry is joined by performers, musicians and artists – Kamal Tall, Micha Goldberg, Naomi Lilith Quashie and Maya Dhondt – who were involved in the program of Decoratelier in the past years. All these different facets of Decoratelier come together in a shared fiction, which does not discriminate between reality and all other possibilities.

30 Apr 2023
Ballads That Embrace

Norsk Shakespearestidsskrift
Berit Einemo Frøysland

(Stavanger): Dance meets music during an evening of memories, longing and a touch of romance, featuring Meg Stuart, Doug Weiss and Mariana Carvalho.

American choreographer Meg Stuart and her company Damaged Goods are, to many, legendary. The work has a central position in the European field, in dialog with, for example, Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy and Vera Mantero – a generation of dance artists who, especially in the 1990s and 2000s, set the tone for contemporary dance through a deconstruction of the body, among other things. It is therefore no small thing that Stuart is making the trip to Stavanger, to the artist-run performing arts platform Rimi/Imir, to present her latest work All the Way Around, a collaboration in which Stuart and bassist Doug Weiss have created an intimate concert format based on the ballad. The ballad as a genre is historically diverse in many ways, from medieval folk songs, romantic music and jazz to popular music, but the word comes from the Latin ballare, meaning to dance, and it is the encounter between dance and music that is the main focus of this evening, an evening steeped in memories, longing and a touch of romance. There are several versions, this one featuring Berlin-based jazz pianist Mariana Carvalho from Brazil as the third performer.

Warm sound

There is an almost ecclesiastical silence as the lights go down in the hall. Weiss enters the stage, embracing his instrument, the double bass, as if it were a body he can gently hug. When he starts to play, the first thing I notice is the warm acoustics in the space, despite the high ceilings. The Rimi/Imir building used to be a grocery store, before that it was a shipyard, but it still feels intimate. Meg Stuart enters the stage from the same corner and stands next to Weiss. She holds her arms and torso in a stylized way. Her gaze is powerful, experienced. She strokes her hand along the cello without touching it, gently, almost sensually. As Weiss abruptly strikes the strings, Stuart smiles. There is an underlying communication there that makes me wonder. She begins to move on a diagonal, like a stepping stone to something bigger. Now pianist Mariana Carvalho gets on stage, and together she and Stuart pull on some threads that seem infinitely long, coming from the piano's innards, creating a metallic sound. The instruments are established as bodies in the room, with their own organs, and the expression ‘thinly worn nerves’ comes to mind.

Stuart lets go and continues to pull the now invisible strings. It raises questions: Where is the line between functionality, work and dance? Between making music and dancing? The choreography flows between poses and states, between swinging arms and controlled collapses. Stuart's way of moving has ripened to a sharp and acidic flavor through decades of practice - distinct and recognizable, yet with surprises. There is something familiar to me about the way she dances. Perhaps it has to do with my years in Berlin and the great influence both her aesthetic and her methods have had. She uses imagination and improvisation to push the boundaries of physicality and break her own habits. An example might be imagining that the body you are dancing with is not yours, or that you have no body, or discovering your qualities anew after everything has been erased and you are just a pile of flesh and bones.[1] Many of the tasks lead to feeling disoriented, and failure is part of the strategy. In her face I can trace inner conflicts and dialogues with these fantasy images that the audience does not have access to. It creates a chain of different emotions, flashes of giggliness, confusion, confidence and shyness.

Without making a big deal of it, Stuart picks up the microphone and says "Good evening". This interjection, about halfway through the piece, makes those of us who have been sitting motionless and in deep concentration exhale and laugh a little, as if we now realize how excited we have been, captivated by what we have seen. Like the time I saw Stuart give a lecture to dance science students at Freie Universität (including a conversation with Professor Gabriele Brandstetter) in 2017, I was amazed at how easy it seems for her to switch between dancing and suddenly starting to talk about her dance. There is no transition, the performative is not switched on and off, perhaps it is purified and reduced in micro-frequencies. At the microphone, Stuart introduces the "band" and the songs they play. One of them is "I'll remember April". "I'll always remember April last year," she says, adding that it's because that's when she and Weiss got married. This sharing of something personal provokes laughter, a vote of confidence from the audience, and frames the "concert" in the romantic context of the ballad.

The light design by Emese Csornai is subtle in its transitions, with circles and lines in shades of purple. At one point Stuart dances illuminated against a wall, the backstage curtain half turned up, with the musicians’ silhouettes in the foreground. This creates depth and divides the space into sections. Weiss increases the intensity with rhythmic and virtuoso tapping of the strings that adds percussive elements to the compositions. Stuart's dance intensifies too as she snorts like a horse – it is not always easy to dance. Actually, never. One must endure that there are no answers. Stuart's response to this seems to be a perpetual round of obstinate attempts and sudden impulses to give up.


The performance also touches on the creepy, the music gets spiky, spiders crawling over the skin. Carvalho playing a small wind instrument reminds me of the clicking sounds the little Jurassic Park dinosaurs make when they are still harmless, cute and curious. The comedy is not far from discomfort. The stretching, turning and twisting of the body, and how the body is perceived, are things that Stuart has been exploring for a long time, ever since she created her breakthrough work Disfigure Study in 1991, directly inspired by Francis Bacon's paintings and Gilles Deleuze's writings about Bacon’s distorted figures. All the Way Around traces material and ideas from a long career in dance, coming together in a fluid form.

“The body exerts itself in a very precise manner. It is not I who attempt to escape from my body, it is the body that attempts to escape from itself by means of…. in short, a spasm: the body as plexus, and its effort or waiting for a spasm. Perhaps this is Bacon’s approximation of horror and abjection.” (Gilles Deleuze on Painting from 1978, by Francis Bacon. The Logic of Sensation.)

Towards the end, the two musicians are left alone on stage and play their instruments in a contact improvisation-based manner, Weiss spooning with the double bass while Mariana climbs up into the bowels of the piano and thumps them with a bouncing ball on a stick. I appreciate that there is never too much of this, that the quality of their playing does not suffer from having to go too far outside their comfort zones, as can often be the case with such experiments. Rather, it is as if their roles mimic each other. Stuart's dynamic dance is musical and the musicians are dance-like without having to let go of their core roles. Stuart joins them again, this time in a purple high-necked top, in a rocking dance in which she cheers and clenches her teeth. A little crazy, a little heart-warming. The experience of this performance is something comforting in a state of longing, a rare embrace, all the way around.

Translated from Norwegian

Original article: https://shakespearetidsskrift.no/2023/04/ballade-som-omfamnar

[1] ‘Are We Here Yet?’ (2010), ed. Jeroen Peeters

31 May 2023
Oblique perspective

Christophe Van Gerrewey

Space is central to the work of Jozef Wouters (b. 1986), and the space of theater - scenography - in particular. In Decoratelier, a former factory building in Molenbeek, grandstands and theatre sets have been built under his direction for several years, but the place has also been described as ‘a radically inclusive public space without a fixed agenda that diverse artistic communities and local residents could appropriate.’ Wouters' most recent performance, A Day is a Hundred Years, is an undisguised homage to the place he himself created.

It is typical of Wouters' approach that a performance begins even before it begins simply because the traditional theatre space has changed. During the premiere of A Day is a Hundred Years at the Bourla theatre, much of the parterre and all the balconies on the left side of the auditorium appear to be covered under a black cloth. It may seem an ultimate desperate attempt to disguise the fact that not all the tickets have been sold or distributed. But it is also an experimental way of making the theatre machine falter, by breaking the compelling perspective in a classical, symmetrical auditorium – by suggesting a different viewing direction than we are used to, an ‘effect’ that is enhanced by the lighting, which is mainly on the right side of the auditorium. To add contrast to that oblique view, the performance begins with a mise en abyme of the most centralist theater decor in architectural history: the proscenium arch of the 1585 Teatro Olimpico by Palladio and Scamozzi. In several, receding layers, arch after arch, the central opening in the middle gets smaller and smaller, until finally a hand emerges out of it, with an eye affixed to the palm - the theater looks back.

Then another remarkable element takes centre stage: a rotating wooden stage that, Wouters says in an interview with Julie De Meester in the programme text, was donated to Decoratelier by arts centre DE SINGEL. At Toneelhuis, it forces the front rows of seats back a little, as a circular extension of the stage. At the same time, the canvases depicting the Teatro Olimpico are replaced by a backcloth depicting the façade of Decoratelier in Molenbeek - a big leap in history, and a flattering sequence: Wouters is not afflicted with false modesty. The combination between the stage spinning like a record player and the fake façade leads to a door comedy with only one door, namely the gate of Decoratelier, which is, contrary to the rest of the set, made of wood. Actors, or rather performers, sometimes accompanied by a bicycle or an electric scooter, stand on the left side of the counterclockwise rotating stage, and are thus automatically led to the blue door. Either they have to ring the bell, walking backwards, or they know the access code. ‘Above all,’ Wouters says in the programme text, ‘I realised that you can't separate the building from the people who look after it. That's why the cast consists of people who have been part of Decoratelier for some time.'

The tension between places and people, or between spaces and the things that take place there, is architecture's insoluble basic dilemma. Can a building (and therefore an architect) determine what takes place inside? Is there actually a relationship between a place and what takes place there? And who ultimately decides the outcome of that relationship? A special feature, or at least an intention of Decoratelier, is that it seems to answer all these questions: it is a utopian place where everyone can be themselves, where everyone is welcome, where power imbalances do not exist, even if that place is the brainchild of one man, who determines the narrative about it by talking about it incessantly, in interviews, texts and videos, and now by making a performance about it.

Moreover - and this causes the central suspense in A Day is a Hundred Years - that place is about to disappear. Indeed, the city of Brussels has plans for the property on Manchester Street that houses Decoratelier. The 'Society for Urban Development' wants to 'redevelop and renovate the building along with the adjacent lots to make it a cultural, artistic and creative production centre'. The 2021 competition was won by a partnership between BC Architects and Civic Architects, with a design in which, as is expected of architecture today, circular construction and reuse of materials predominate rather than space or form. About halfway through A Day is a Hundred Years, the façade of Decoratelier is replaced by a backcloth showing a computer simulation - a render - of the future façade of this 'creative hub'. The way this façade is then ridiculed in the performance as an abstraction and a simulacrum - one of the performers tries to find the bell or the entrance, which of course fails, and also tries to climb a tree depicted right in front of the building - is a bit facile, as architectural criticism. That this façade is not 'real' is firstly because this façade does not yet exist (it is a project, a plan), and secondly because Wouters chose to materialise the façade as a two-dimensional backcloth - as an image - while Decoratelier's door was actuallyexecuted, on stage, in wood.

The criticism of the future arts centre, and Wouters' decision not to want to be part of it but then devote a performance to it, shows again how he wants to control the narrative, as befits an artist. Of course, the future complex can and will usher in a form of gentrification in Molenbeek, and it is a form of critical anarchism to want to resist it. But is every decision by a political government by definition suspect? As to why Decoratelier could not function within a bigger picture and behind a new glass façade, A Day is a Hundred Years offers no answer. ‘To give space is to distribute power' is Wouters' adage, but everyone who participates, whether in the audience, on stage or in the atelier, seems to have to remain in the first place an extra in his devises rather than in those of the city of Brussels.

A Day is a Hundred Years once again shows that Wouters does not lack ideas and insights, nor talented collaborators. In the finale – in which the proscenium arches of the Teatro Olimpico also return - the work of Barry Ahmad Talib, according to Wouters the ‘caretaker’ of Decoratelier, comes to the fore, as it has done in some of Wouters’ previous performances,. He creates trees, both miniature and more than life-sized, by cutting tree leaves from old carpets - another form of recycling - and applying them to wooden trunks and branches. The theatre space is filled with objects, which are natural rather than cultural in appearance. In shimmering light, the colourful trees spin around, while hypnotic, epic music resounds, as if in a brilliant, ideal world. As Proust knew: there are only lost paradises.

Translated from Dutch

Original article on www.e-tcetera.be

28 May 2023
A door piece

Mia Vaerman

A door as protagonist. Somehow Jozef Wouters always turns expectations upside down and inside out when he works the theater machine. Props become actors, technicians hit the stage, what seemed fixed is questioned. Literally, too. Wouters invariably takes an unusual angle. In ‘A Day is a Hundred Years,’ everything revolves around two replicas: one of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza and one of the blue door of Wouters' Decoratelier in Molenbeek. A play of forms, but one that completely coincides with the content.

The title ‘A day is a hundred years’ is taken from a poem by Masanobu Fukuoka. In his writings, the Japanese farmer observes that farmers are left with no time to write haiku in winter because they work too hard. Could this refer to the hectic activity in Decoratelier?

In any case, Wouters transformed the Bourla theatre in Antwerp for this piece. Across the right half of the auditorium, black cloths descend from the balconies. They cover half of the seats on the parterre. From a box on that side you can hear someone tuning a harpsichord. Equally striking: in front of the gilded proscenium arch designed by Philastre and Cambon, a "false" arch, made of cloth and wood, was added, which looks strikingly similar to the famous proscenium arch of Palladio and Scamozzi's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. Behind the actual proscenium arch, that ersatz arch pops up five or six more times, slightly smaller each time.

As the audience takes their seats, more than ten increasingly smaller versions of the arch are pushed onto the stage. This creates an infini: a fleeing perspective that suggests an endlessly deep space. It was a popular motif in the Baroque era, but Wouters also has a fondness for it. This was evident, for example, in ‘Infini 1-15’ (2016). This infini, however, is only the impetus for an entirely different story.

Actor Barry Ahmad Talib is seated at the back of the stage. His red pant leg keeps lighting up until the very last, minuscule arch, smaller than a human, slides into place. Then the lights in the auditorium dim and the harpsichord begins to play, for real. The arches start dancing from left to right, up and down. The straight passage to the back distorts into a winding road. Suddenly, between the last two arches, a hand drops down, palm facing the hall. In that palm shines a glittering eye. What an enchanting play.

Meanwhile, Maya Dhondt, in a purple costume with a head of hair as lush as an 18th-century wig, plays the harpsichord on the front stage. Only when she starts to turn do you notice that a huge turning stage has been slid between the side posts of the ‘real’ proscenium arch. As the harpsichord sounds distort electronically, large, colorful dots - are they snowflakes? - peek between the arches. This set is alive! Another coup de théâtre follows: a large backcloth sinks down. It represents the dilapidated facade of Wouters' Decoratelier in Brussels: someone wrote "Vive la révolte" on it in graffiti. At the center is the blue, closed door. Quite different from the splendor of Scamozzi's decor.

Accompanying the door are a mailbox and a bell with an access code. These will be in constant use from now on. Barry puts on a red sports jacket over his red pants. It is his work uniform as the janitor of Decoratelier. Everyone who comes there knows Barry, and Barry knows everyone. The artist from Guinee-Conakry has played that part since he participated in ‘Underneath Which Rivers Flow,’ a performance with, by and for "newcomers" in Belgium, in 2019. Barry then became artist in residence as well as 'caretaker' of Decoratelier. It places him at the center of what follows.

And yet, he is no longer the only performer: from now on Micha Goldberg, Naomi Lilith Quashie and Kamal Tall move from between the arches onto the turning stage time after time. One has to ring the bell, the other knows the access code. Whoever rings the bell has to wait – that is, they have to walk backwards. This results in absurdly funny scenes, especially when they drag in ever larger items such as a bicycle, a scooter, a ladder and a flagpole. Once they go through the door, they immediately reappear from behind the false proscenium arch and head for the blue door again. They must be running around like crazy behind there. Acrobatics.

Yet it all happens calmly and without rushing. The performers, the technicians and the musicians work imperturbably. Menno Vandevelde and Michiel Soete lead the technical team that realizes Wouters' ideas. They and their team often appear on stage. Decoratelier clearly makes no distinction between the artistic and the technical team. Dramaturgy, technique, imagination and budget: everything is one flow, according to Jozef Wouters. The situations become increasingly playful and silly. At a certain point, there is even a song about the bell ('Oh, doorbell, you make too much noise') and about Wouters ('Ah, Jozef, sometimes he forgets his keys’). In the gaudy décor of the Bourla, the action reminds me of Piranesi's etchings of Roman ruins in which everyday, mundane scenes take place. When night falls in this theatrical world, a real street lamp even appears on the turning stage.

The whole atmosphere is one of casual fun, humor, perspective. When the platform suddenly turns in another direction, we see the back of the canvas with the door. In the blink of an eye, the team sets up a Richard Serra-style round partition onto the dangerously fast rotating platform. Daring. A choreography on electronic beats, with all hands on deck.

The denouement, however, brings decidedly less cheerful news. On yet another backcloth appears a ‘rendering’ of the new building that, commissioned by the Brussels Region, will soon replace Decoratelier. This ’creative hub,’ a design by BC Architects and Civic Architects, features large windows through which the blue sky radiates, but the performers on stage search in vain for an entrance. The building is closed. Impenetrable.

The scene is overlaid with a story, told by Barry. It highlights the difference between this government architecture and the sanctuary that is the current Decoratelier. In Guinee, he was also a kind of janitor: he managed Orange Télécom's transmitter mast. Right next to it were a couple of trees. He set up a sort of community center there. Residents could go there to charge their cell phones, watch videos, listen to music, have a drink. Cozy under the trees. He called the place Kapitahun. Decoratelier became just such a place, in part because of his efforts. A space that connects people of all kinds, a hyphen between inside and outside, here and there. A middle ground, without intrusive glances. A space for experimentation...

That autonomous place is in danger. So that's essentially what this has been about all along. But on the Bourla's stage, the play with canvases and perspectives continues. As if to avert fate. Barry makes the final gesture: he creates a new grove on stage, this time with trees he assembled from planks and pieces of carpet. Not to be trifled with, this reaching for desires without end by Jozef Wouters. With contrary imagination and tender resistance.

It is reminiscent of a statement Wouters once made in Etcetera about the role of tinsel in the classical theater - and thus also about the exuberant play with the theatrical illusion in this piece: 'I thought that perhaps the self-confident theater architecture with its ostentatious façade does not only have the desire to stand out and impress. Perhaps it also serves as protection for the fragile work taking place inside. Perhaps the marble floors, gold railings and expensive program leaflets help ensure that inside something hesitant can happen and quietly take shape.

Translated from Dutch

Original article: www.pzazz.theater

09 Jun 2023
‘A Day is a Hundred Years’ in the Odeon

Der Standard
Helmut Ploebst

A successful performance by Jozef Wouters at the Wiener Festwochen with an impressive scenography.

The unconventional idea of placing scenography at the centre of the creative process has made Jozef Wouters and his art organisation Decoratelier highly regarded in the Belgian independent scene. Currently, the 37-year-old is putting on a new work at the Odeon. The catalyst for A Day is a Hundred Years was Barry Ahmad Talib, a migrant from Guinea. Talib works as an artist in residence in Wouters' Decoratelier in the Molenbeek district of Brussels. The studio has expanded into a cultural centre where young artists, technicians and craftspeople work together.

But now is the eleventh hour for Decoratelier. The building in which they have set up shop is to be converted into a poshly designed ‘culture hub’. Unfortunately, the creative atmosphere and the liveliness of a place that result from inventive improvisation are almost always lost in such renovations. A process of gentrification has also begun in Molenbeek, initially a poor migrant neighborhood that became hip with an artsy crowd. This reality is one element of the piece. The other is Talib's biography. He ran a kiosk at home in Guinee-Conakry, which grew into a popular gathering place before the artist decided to emigrate to Europe.

In the play, Talib's world becomes part of a choreographed scenography. A baroque-looking series of spaces is set in motion. The reconstructed façade of the Decoratelier building is integrated and the hustle and bustle of the art centre is depicted. Its vitality ends with the chic new ‘Hub’, whose smooth façade with glass windows replaces the exterior of the old building. On the constantly rotating stage, Wouters' atelier is reconstructed as a hollow world, in the centre of which the door mutates into a blue cylinder. Talib assembles large, colourful tree sculptures into an installation of dreams. Wouters gets the most out of the rotating stage and emphasises the improvised as an expression of artistic liveliness. A successful performance.

Original article

21 Jul 2023
Double bass, piano and dance unfold a trio

Salzburger Nachrichten

The Viennese festival ImPulsTanz celebrates its 40th anniversary with Meg Stuart.

The US-American dancer and choreographer Meg Stuart is a guest at Vienna's ImPulsTanz with three productions: the classic piece 'BLESSED', which was here in 2007, the year it was created, and 2018, and the Austrian premieres 'One Shot' (2016) and 'All the Way Around’ (2020). The latter celebrated its premiere at the Akademietheater on Wednesday.

'All the Way Around is like a theatrical research station, in which Meg Stuart improvises with jazz bassist Doug Weiss and pianist Mariana Carvalho. The trio relates to each other and to their instruments: Doug Weiss improvises on the double bass. He tries out variations, holds a note for a long time, taps the strings with the frog, changes positions on stage, hides behind his double bass or even lies underneath it. He plays on and with the instrument.

Mariana Carvalho also tries out various possibilities and boundaries. On a prepared piano, she pulls nylon threads through the strings, amplifies sounds and tones, taps the instrument to make it sound like the clatter of a typewriter, and lies down under the grand piano. Her relationship to the instrument has several levels, for humans do not always control things.

Meg Stuart develops her movements together with the two musicians, following the moment as well as the shared process. Stuart listens to the sounds, and Weiss and Carvalho also react to Stuart's dance – it is a constant communication.

Meg Stuart's instrument is the body, which obviously does not only follow thoughts, but finds its own answers and leads the dancer into unknown areas. Her starting point is the body’s memory, which also stores experiences, traumas and the joy of earlier generations, and which does not allow itself to be determined solely by the power of the intellect. As she moves, hands, arms and legs seem to act faster than the dancer's mind. Seemingly isolated, they turn or cause the dancer to be thrown to the floor, at the feet of the grand piano. Throughout the improvisation, ideas are picked up and dropped. They are not played out. The trio ends the one-hour performance with a classical jazz ballad.

16 Jul 2023
Less Is More

Radio Student
Samo Oleami, Metod Zupan, Nika Gradišek

This review was written on the occasion of a duet performance of All the Way Around at the 2023 Spider Festival, on 15 July 2023. Meg Stuart and Doug Weiss performed without Mariana Carvalho, wo plays the grand piano in the trio version, and in an outdoor setting without the regular light design.

With all due respect to the other artists on this year’s Spider Festival programme, Meg Stuart is undoubtedly the pièce de résistance – besides Svetlana, of course – even if she may be unknown to the average Ljubljana dance audience. Stuart – a New Orleans-born artist who is primarily based in Germany – began studying dance at New York University in 1983. She joined the renowned New York dance scene at a time when the big names of American postmodern dance had largely withdrawn from it, but their imprint was still felt in the city. After all, Stuart also studied at the Movement Research Institute, the influence of which is visible in her dance even to the untrained eye.

Double bassist Doug Weiss also comes from the New York jazz scene, where he made a name for himself working with jazz legends such as Al Foster, Pete Seeger and Toshiko Akiyoshi. Despite the reassurance this list of credentials provides, it is worth noting that big names do not guarantee anything. From a purely economic point of view, hosting artists of this calibre often leads to cuts in other areas, but in the case of Stuart and Weiss, this has thankfully not been the case.

All the Way Around, which introduced them to Spider’s audience, was originally supposed to be a completely different show. However, certain well-known circumstances in 2020 led to Stuart, a dancer, joining Weiss for a performance, instead of another musical improviser. As a result, the performance is conceived as a musical evening – part improvised, part fixed, part concert, part dance performance – in six scenes. On an empty black stage, we see Weiss on the double bass and Stuart playing nothing but her own body. Eventually, Stuart will join Weiss on the double bass, and during the performance she will also disappear from sight, deep into the Tivoli park, but we’ll get to that later. When the duet begins in a gloomy park, with two figures in black, one humming and the other dancing tirelessly, it’s almost kitsch New York, but in a good way.

The first scene is characterised by the sweeping strokes of the bow against the bass strings and the subtle spirals that Stuart makes. Both the dancer and the musician stand upright, which requires more muscle engagement than a seated position. However, complex muscular coordination is almost a given, even as the dancer’s hands twitch with an intensity that mirrors the tension of the strings. This worksprecisely because of the uneven effect that this tension has on the audience. The sound waves of the musical instrument reverberate, and the dancer’s body vibrates for a while in the reflection of our eyes, before the movement becomes ecstatic. The contrast with the slow tension of the strings is mirrored in the dancer’s stretched movements, with much emphasis on the extended forearms and suddenly relaxed elbows. In our region, Magdalena Reiter is the most faithful proponent of this kind of movement quality.

In each scene, which lasts a few minutes, Stuart manages to approach the music – which forms the backbone of the performance – with a different quality, which she consequently deepens, transforms and explores throughout the scene. In the third scene, Stuart movestowards the double bass and pulls out a string. As she pulls it again and again, the action becomes physically demanding, and the repetition of the pulling motion brings out a unique response from the instrument. This physical action gives her movement a boldness, carefully modulated to produce a sound that remains captivating without being overpowering.

To say that the Stuart-Weiss dance-music duet was good because it actually focused on dance, with no high-flying concept, no artificial costumes, no expressiveness or other attributes foreign to contemporary dance, is perhaps an understatement. The point is not modesty,but unpretentiousness. The duet All the Way Around does not pretend to be anything other than what it is. Despite their simplicity, even the changes in position are characterized by their dance-like quality, as they respond to the music in unpredictable ways. Sometimes suddenly, sometimes subtly. But what holds them together is the focus of the dancer, a kind of wryness in her facial expressions. It’s as if she is playing with our expectations, and when she overdoes it just a little bit, she gets carried away into the laughter that, for example, ends the third scene.

This resonates deeply with the theme of this year's festival: ‘We don’t need anything’. This year’s programme by the Spider Festival’sartistic director, Matej Kejžar, continues last year’s gesture of programming performances created outside of typical rigid choreographic processes, which, at least on the surface, seem to remain illusory. Quite nominally, a number of performances this year also had dancers on stage and a choreographer behind them. Within this context, however, All the Way Around comes across as a breath of fresh air, because it does not seek justification outside of its own specific characteristics. It is a work about dance and music, in which the human body, the process of its movement through space, and the combination of this movement with music, which is also created live, shine in a constant relationship with dance, mutually enriching each other.

The festival theme receives a humorous twist when Stuart leaves the stage in the middle of the fourth scene. As she plunges from the foreground to the back of the stage, she does not stop, even when she crosses the edge of the stage.

The audience’s vision is defined by the stage, behind which lies a grove of trees, from behind whose canopy the lights of Ljubljana peep.Stuart carries on and on until she disappears into the darkness. A simple gesture, but it works. We don’t need anything more. In fact, we should need less. Less artifice, less conceptuality, less production. Less is more.

Link: https://radiostudent.si/kultura/ulicna-kritika/nic-nam-ni-treba

Jun 2023
All the Way Around

Hans-Maarten Post

Imagine she was a jazz singer. Then you would call this a concert. It would be one of those evenings. Lush songs from the Great American Songbook. Accompanied by a bass player and a pianist. All eyes on her. An intimate and elegant affair. But the woman on stage, dressed in black, with peroxide blonde hair, is a choreographer, and the songbook from which she performs is her own.

That is clear from her first movements, right after the bow has been placed on the strings of that double bass. Anyone who has followed the career of Meg Stuart, which now spans three decades, will recognize these movements. The familiar turning of the head towards the shoulder, which rises upwards. One arm going up. The other following. As if she is surrendering. There’s that moment when her mind seems to have lost control over her body. As if someone with a remote control directs her movements. Her gaze saying: I can’t help it either.

All the Way Around? Easy as ABC, one could say. But although it may look effortless, you need someone who can rely on years of experience to pull this off. Stuart’s movements breathe ease and confidence, as she can draw from an archive of choreographic material that has clearly become almost one with her body over the years. Watching her perform feels like a privilege. It wouldn’t be the same if she had sent somebody else on stage to do this. Yes, all eyes on her.

Just like that singer would do during a concert, at some point Stuart grabs a microphone and addresses the audience. She tells us they’ve just done a piece by Ornette Coleman, and that the next one will be an original piece by Doug Weiss, the accomplished double bass player accompanying her on stage. All the Way Around began as a duet between the two, and you can feel their complicity.

Does this all sound too smooth? Of course there is room for improvisation. And friction. It’s even audible, as a recurring element in the performance is the pulling of a long string from that grand piano at the back of the stage. A sound you feel in your bones, as you almost automatically wait for it to snap. Of course All the Way Around takes twists and turns you wouldn’t expect, and not just on the level of the choreography. You will see Doug Weiss lying on his back with his bass on his chest, Mariana Carvalho getting sounds out of her piano while crouching underneath it. At one point it even looks as if Stuart will begin to sing.

The ballad form was a starting point for the collaboration between Stuart and Weiss. While this subtle, well-paced performance gallantly avoids pleasing the audience too much – but wait: was that really the bass line from a song by The Police? – it still feels nice to see it end as a ballad, with music and dance handsomely coming together – the closest this could get to a concert. Imagine if she was not a dancer.

Nov 2023
The how of dramaturgy

De Witte Raaf
Rudi Laermans

In theatre, it has long been customary to work with a dramaturge; within the dance world it is a recent development. During the 1980s, for instance, the close collaboration between Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Marianne Van Kerkhoven, dramaturge at Kaaitheater, was still rather exceptional. During the 1990s, that began to change. This was due in large part to the consolidation of a new field for contemporary dance. In Flanders, it was linked to a string of young names and companies that were gaining success abroad, such as Alain Platel and Wim Vandekeybus; domestically, this ‘Flemish wave’ received its own subsidy programme from 1993 onwards, as well as sustained support from the established circuit of arts centres and artistic workspaces.

To a large extent, the dance field copied the organisational model and working methods of the older theatre world. In a way, this was self-evident. The flexible and informal way of working within contemporary dance had little to learn from the unwieldy and hierarchical ballet world with its standardised dance language. Contemporary dance is focused on creation: in the run-up to a performance, original movement material is generated in a collaboration between choreographer and performers. Theatre directors are assisted by a dramaturge, and contemporary dance makers also started to take for granted that they needed a permanent sounding board in the studio. Or should a dance dramaturge be able to do more than provide commentary along the way?

When I asked André Lepecki, by now a renowned dance scholar, in 1993 what he did as a dramaturge in his collaboration with Meg Stuart, a list of tasks followed, ranging from providing relevant sources of inspiration and writing promotional texts to following and discussing the creation process. Which movements were interesting enough to explore? What was the narrative meaning of the sequences that were retained? What assignments could stimulate the development of material? Answering those questions naturally presupposed one basic action: watching the studio work attentively, observing closely from the sidelines with a gaze that is simultaneously analytical and empathetic. Lepecki was trained in this thanks to his prior education as a cultural anthropologist. Perhaps a dramaturge should always be a bit of an anthropologist, to keep sufficient distance?

Being both insider and outsider at the same time: that idea often comes up in the growing literature on (dance) dramaturgy. This increasing stream of publications may point to an intellectual legitimisation drive: people want to justify the position of the dramaturge by making it explicit. At the same time, the necessity, or at least the relevance, of that role is also justified. A theatre or dance maker cannot do without a dramaturge, is the usually implicit conclusion, brought to the forefront by the greatly increased availability of dramaturgy courses. First there was theatre studies, then from the late 1980s dance studies acquired academic status. Alongside theatre dramaturgy, dance dramaturgy became a possible master’s degree within fully-fledged dance studies programmes, which, incidentally, do not exist in Flanders.

To legitimise dance dramaturgy and claim it as ‘expertise’ is not the aim of Jeroen Peeters’ (1976) recent publication. And Then it Got Legs is first and foremost borne of an outspoken desire for self-reflection, like many other writings by practising dance dramaturges. Peeters has a long track record and tries to understand – not justify – what he has actually done in his collaborations with choreographers based on his practice. In doing so, he starts from three principles.

One: the position or role of a dance dramaturge is neither fixed nor indispensable. The ever-changing demands of an artistic project are not the only reason for this open attitude. Without much ado, Peeters posits that performing artists do not necessarily need a fixed travel companion. They should, however, be aware of the inevitability of dramaturgy within a creative process. In the introduction, Peeters writes that it involves “the development of a common ground for sense-making, for analysing material and exploring questions, for constantly observing and articulating the creation process, for pursuing the unfamiliar and accepting the haphazard, for experimenting with labour, time and instituted habits.” This wide-ranging definition refers less to what a dramaturge does and more to what Myriam Van Imschoot once called ‘the dramaturgical’. It revolves around a multidimensional, constantly fluctuating function or series of tasks; a dramaturge can facilitate this, but the dance maker or even the group in toto could also do that.

Two: dramaturgy is a collective practice, a form of commoning: you work together and during that ‘collaboration’ you develop a common ground that allows cooperation. This is true even when one individual takes up the dramaturgical function. That individual should implement ‘the dramaturgical’ in various forms of cooperation with the choreographer and performers, as well as with those responsible for scenography, lighting, music... and even production and planning.

Three, and decisive for And Then it Got Legs: dramaturgy is a practice, a doing – or more accurately: a collection of ways of doing that is never finished. Some of these practices are transferable from one creative process to another; others are so contextual that you cannot reuse them, but at most draw inspiration from them later. Peeters focuses on doing dramaturgy: the question is not “what is dramaturgy?”, but rather “how do you do dramaturgy?”. Because of this approach, And Then it Got Legs can be read as a reflective documentation, even an autoethnography. Peeters draws on an extensive archive of traces of creative processes in which he participated, especially working notes. Together with the sometimes extensive descriptions of those work processes and the records of conversations with choreographers, this body of notes and memories is linked to four major notions: material, process, conceptual landscape and composition. This results in four sections that are broken down into short chapters, with titles that often aptly summarise the content: ‘Exhaustive Talking’, ‘Free Writing’ or ‘Naming Material’. By contrast, a phrase like ‘Phantasmal Archaeology’ makes one curious because it is not immediately clear.

The choice of a practice-based reflection results in a highly readable book. It helps that Peeters writes well and resists the ubiquitous temptation in dance studies to flaunt French theory and other trends. He regularly makes a conceptual leap and generalises, but even then he writes on his own account and sticks to the distinction between theory and reflection. Theory implies cross-referenced concepts and definitions; reflection rather orients itself to clouds of meaning and the singularity of formulations or images that can never be fully made transparent. It is no coincidence that Peeters introduces or concludes his chapters with quotations from literary works or essays. His book is first and foremost a workbook: the record of a working practice and a source of inspiration for those who engage thoughtfully with ‘the dramaturgical’.

There is a ‘but’, though: the ‘situatedness’ of the practice that is analysed and the trajectory that was followed. Over the past two decades, Peeters has worked almost exclusively with dance makers with a strong focus on reflection and research, such as Martin Nachbar, Jennifer Lacey, Philipp Gehmacher, Meg Stuart and, more recently, Jozef Wouters. This, of course, colours his experience. When you co-direct ‘the dramaturgical’ within a project or company that starts from a fixed and somewhat detailed framework or, more importantly, from partially defined movement material, you end up with a considerably different practice. This is obvious, and it is confirmed by my own limited experience as a dramaturge within such a clearly delineated work context. Nonetheless, I recognise several of the dimensions or working forms analysed by Peeters. I would even say that, as a record of a singular dramaturgical trajectory, And Then it Got Legs can claim something like particular universality.

The sub-practices Peeters excavates are often far from revolutionary. You read material meticulously, broadly and in-depth, from a distance or embodied. You scan it for potentials and talk to the choreographer about these as well as about qualities and intentions. You observe continuously and note impressions and ideas. You are keen to find workable metaphors or words: naming material is crucial for dramaturgical practice insofar as it is aimed at producing shared meanings and a common working situation.

The dramaturge constantly helps formulate the stakes of the whole: he oversees and articulates the process. Peeters links this to the development of an archive in the form of a dramaturgical map accessible to everyone: post-its with keywords and questions, found images and self-made drawings, useful text fragments... Towards the end of a creation, this map can help to figure out the composition; along the way, it foreshadows the final product, stimulates imagination and reflection, offers a collective context and provokes questions. Possibly, the map transforms into ‘a conceptual landscape’, populated by endorsed themes, images and words. Thus, during a creation process with deufert&plischke, five topics crystallised: vampirology, tattoo, ‘abyssology’, memory and knitting. Taken together, these topics were partly coherent and partly not. The decisive factor was that everyone could walk through the landscape both mentally and physically and thus find anchor points for creating or interpreting material and, above all, situating themselves within the work process.

While he does not dedicate many words to it, Peeters indicates a few times that doing dramaturgy regularly amounts to being bored: nothing seems to be happening in the studio. You also have to be able to deal with intense moments of collaboration that lead to nothing (symbolic waste). Wasting time and being unproductive are just part of it: you can never rationalise a creative process or optimise it in advance. I would have liked to read more about that in relation to the only indirectly mentioned time and production constraints within the neoliberal regime of artistic accumulation.

The dramaturge is quite often seen as – speaking with Lacan – someone who is supposed to know (‘the subject supposed to know’). Peeters refuses that role: he prefers the productivity of pretending not to know. It avoids hasty conclusions or decisions and leaves room for new questions. His restrained attitude also ties in with a basic idea contained in the title: And Then it Got Legs.

As a wayward spider in the web of shifting artistic possibilities, the dramaturge in the manner of Peeters is ultimately focused on the autonomy of the work. This by now controversial notion is given substance through the dynamics of making: from a certain moment onwards, the work-to-come begins to talk back and take initiative, as it were. What needs to be done then no longer needs much discussion: the material speaks for itself. Such a focus on what the work wants (or seems to want) helps dim the sometimes quite ego-laden conversations or actions in the studio. The work-in-progress starts to act as a mediator between all the participants. This form of autonomy can ease the making of compositional decisions, often under great time pressure, just before a premiere: ‘What does the work demand on its own terms?’ Even in the final stage, according to Peeters, this question should take precedence over the orientation towards the spectator.

The final decisions are made by the choreographer. This is obvious, since the creator is publicly accountable and charged with the success or failure of the performance. At the same time, there is a broader point here that Peeters only considers in passing, and without much reflection: power relations. Indeed, the collaboration between choreographer, performers, dramaturge and others such as costume and lighting designers is not necessarily a level playing field. When collective material is discussed, the choreographer’s words carry more weight. So do the dramaturge’s comments, Peeters notes. The underlying cause is the old cliché of thinkers and doers: the choreographer and dramaturge have brains, the performers are mainly bodies.

The two most authoritative parties need not always be on the same page. ‘Critical friction’ is productive as long as it does not escalate into conflict. Peeters addresses the power-laden working relationship between dramaturge and choreographer, but rarely involves the performers in his reflections. The commoning within and the collective responsibility for ‘the dramaturgical’ are not consistently thought through. I am pretty sure that this omission is explained precisely by the factually unequal working context. Even after ‘collaboration’ changed from a catchword into a must, the creative process continues to be marked by hierarchical differences and different opportunities for decision-making. True collective work and dramaturgy are seldom practised. In short, power is a blind spot in And Then it Got Legs, but that is a rather schoolmaster-like reflection from the sociological sidelines, on an inspiring book that is mainly worth reading because of the way Peeters practices ‘grounded reflection’.

Translated from Dutch.
Find the original article on dewitteraaf.be.

24 Oct 2022
An elegant collection of stories and reflections on collaboration

Sébastien Hendrickx

With And then it got legs, Jeroen Peeters has written an inspiring book on dance dramaturgy. It is rooted in Peeters' own experiences as a dramaturg and artistic collaborator with Meg Stuart, Martin Nachbar, Philipp Gehmacher, Eleanor Bauer and other choreographers. The ideas, questions and practices it addresses are also relevant to performing artists and enthusiasts outside the world of contemporary dance.

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the dramaturg is the idea that their role is primarily to bring theory and knowledge into a creative process. As if the other artistic collaborators are totally ignorant, have no theoretical interests, only do and don’t think. Peeters barely refers to theoretical sources in And then it got legs. The book is a collection of short, elegantly composed essays full of literary quotations, memories of meaningful moments in past work processes, the broader reflections these evoke about ways of collaborating, and excerpts from texts Peeters wrote earlier in the margins of productions.


Dramaturgy is first and foremost a collective practice, whether performed in collaboration with a dramaturg or not. How do you look and listen to the work-in-development? How do you talk about it, and how does that talking drive that development? When you playfully invent names for elements of the work, what is the potential impact of that naming? What forms of experimental reading can stimulate the imagination? How do you set up the studio? The book's four chapters reflect the chronology of dramaturgical work. Often this begins with the collection and observation of (1) material (much more important than ideas); that material is then developed through (2) a process; gradually a shared (3) conceptual landscape appears; toward the end, the work of (4) composition intrudes. Although many different productions are discussed, Peeters refers most often to Meg Stuart's solo Hunter (2014), making the working process of that performance a common thread throughout the book.

'I've tried to avoid a teacher's tone,' Peeters writes in the introduction, and he has passed with flying colors. And then it got legs is not a how-to manual for aspiring dramaturgs and choreographers. The emphasis is on: how did I, or rather, how did we? The tone is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Peeters' pedagogy is of the Rancièrian stripe: like an "ignorant master," he shares his insights and questions, transparently showing the background and beliefs from which they arose (Peeters’ artistic coming of age took place in the world of experimental dance and performance of the "noughties"), then invites the reader to do their own thing with them. A dramaturgical practice, moreover, only really deepens in concrete collaborations: 'I believe dramaturgy thrives on the quality and specificity of a collaboration, while established models or expertise are only of secondary importance.'


Despite what the subtitle Notes on dance dramaturgy suggests, the book is not very discipline-specific. As was the case for Jonathan Burrows' classic A Choreographer's Handbook (Routledge, 2010), And then it got legs also has the potential to find its way into the studios of theater and performance makers, alongside those of choreographers and dance dramaturgs.

How do you take the position of 'not-knowing' as a dramaturge and as a maker?
In the context of the Flemish-Brussels performing arts scene, where the value of artistic innovation has outstripped that of tradition for decades, each production designs - as dramaturg Marianne Van Kerkhoven wrote - 'its own method'. How do you turn creative processes, over and over again, into laboratories, in which you can try to invent alternative forms of collaboration and imagination? What experimental practices help to keep those processes 'open' without making them arbitrary and blind? How do you guard the work of sense-making from the shortcut of the recognizable, the all too legible and communicative? How do you take the position of the 'not-knowing' as a dramatist and as a maker?

After years of cutting subsidies in an increasingly crowded performing arts field, And then it got legs seems almost nostalgic. Take, for example, the essay on "symbolic waste," which concludes the chapter on process. In it, Peeters describes how, for Meg Stuart, the occasional waste of time and production resources can paradoxically be a valuable part of a creative process. Sometimes the team does something "just for today" or "just for our private fun. Trying something out, failing, wasting energy, clinging to not-knowing, searching without wanting to find ,... This experimental, risk-taking attitude clashes with a production context marked by precarity, efficiency and a compulsive need for success.

Translated from Dutch.
Find the original article via www.e-tcetera.be.

27 Feb 2022
Meg Stuart celebrates the art of survival at HAU.

Berliner Zeitung
Elena Philipp

With stage design by Philippe Quesne, Meg Stuart's new production brings lightness to the heaviness of the present. Coming soon to the Tanzplattform.

Two rock-shaped air cushions are covered with tarps that show images from space. Behind them, a horizon displays the galactic nebulae in which stars are formed. There’s a huge wooden ramp, like a ski jump. In this cosmic someplace (stage: Philippe Quesne) seven performers in activewear test their environment, let themselves sink into the cushions, try to balance standing on them, swing daringly on ropes from one of the soft monoliths to the next. This happens at a leisurely pace in Meg Stuart's performance CASCADE, which celebrates its Berlin premiere at HAU and can be seen again at the Volksbühne in less than three weeks during Tanzplattform.

Time does not require efficiency here. How long something last depends on whether it is completed or still needs to resonate – what counts is precision, perseverance, devotion to a process and to the moment, as in competitive sports. These are present in "Cascade" not only through the costumes by Aino Laberenz: Márcio Kerber Canabarro performs athletic breakdance moves on the edge of the ramp and Jayson Batut, in a leotardwith his arms raised high, seems to be preparing for his gymnastic freestyle floor routine. Why is he wearing a motorcycle helmet? Because a chunk of stone threatens to fall on his head, dangling next to other foam debris in a net hung above the stage. He narrowly escapes - Pieter Ampe, with the timing of a comedian, pulls Batut aside at the last moment.

Disasters lurk everywhere, but giving up is not an option: with their arms, the dancers push against gravity. They break free from their isolation, support each other or playfully wrestle in duets, like puppies training to attack. The seven rehearse how to pick up or deflect an impulse without deviating too much from their own actions. Despite exhaustion, they throw themselves into the increasingly urgent rhythms that Philipp Danzeisen and Spela Mastnak produce live on drums and cymbals at the edge of the stage.

CASCADE celebrates the art of survival. Davis Freeman greets us, "welcome back," after the "interruption" - Corona also delayed the creation of CASCADE by a year. He brings some levity when he depicts world events as a wavelike motion, as "up and down" - and the dancers behind him bob "up and down" on the air cushions. On the evening of a clear down, the Ukraine war, this seems surprisingly comforting. CASCADE raises pressing questions: What is a good life, despite climate catastrophe, war and disease? What remains? Encounters, gestures that connect. Moments in which beauty shines before it fades away. An impressive, frightening carnival procession leads us into the night in flickering light.

03 Jun 2022
“Infini 1–18”: Curtains Up for Scenography!

Kleine Zeitung
Julia Schafferhofer

The wondrous world of fly systems, stage drapery and fog machines: Jozef Wouters’ contemplative evening at the Wiener Festwochen.

It is not the first time that you can walk, climb, listen to and go deep into the farthest corners of the Viennese Volkstheater. During the Wiener Festwochen, Belgian stage designer Jozef Wouters now reveals its well-oiled fictional machine, which is usually overshadowed by dancers or orchestras. Raise the curtains for enchanting stage sets!

Fog drifts in, clouds billow out, ramps rattle, fabric panels descend, two technicians manually and synchronously change rolls of paper. Spotlights expand or fragment the space. The contemplative evening is enveloped by a rising and falling sound architecture. "Infini-1–18" is like a book of spaces full of wondrous narratives and facades rich in perspectives and trompe l’oeils, that is turned page by page for the audience. A bit like a high culture version of "Alice in Wonderland". After all, it is one of the intentions of this performance to open up and expand the traditional theater space.

An overwhelming stage conversion

Since 2016 Jozef Wouters, a veritable conjuror of images, has been reading buildings and auditoriums and turning this unusual experience into a piece, during which it is explicitly permitted to change your seat or get a drink. "Infini" means something like a backdrop, or the back part of a stage set. Wouters has invited artists to design individual chapters. Themes include stage conversions, shadows in the black box or computer animations. For three and a half hours, images and illusions are pieced together – and dismantled again. Quite leisurely and calming.

Link to original article.

09 Jun 2022
The sensational opening of Latitudes contemporaines with Meg Stuart

Capucine De Montaudry

With a group of seven dancers and two drummers, Meg Stuart brings an apocalyptic opening to the Latitudes Contemporaines festival. Cascade questions the place of man and of the collective in a chaotic cosmos, where balance is more precarious than ever. The spectator experiences the incessant upheaval of a vital movement that is perpetually being reinvented.

The scenography, created by Philippe Quesne, immediately places us in the infinite space of the universe. Two huge inflatable structures covered with a tarp that represents the galaxy; two nets hung in the air filled with pieces of foam that look like wood; a very high ramp; two drums; and finally a large black cushion in front of the stage. Smoke drifts gently as the audience takes their seats.

Precarious balance

The dancers enter one by one, vibrating sounds are heard. From the beginning, each dancer performs their own score. Their movements seem to be the result of a necessity. However, the balance is constantly negotiated: each action, each gesture affects those of the others. They cannot remain independent of this collective, though it is held together by tenuous links. All explore the potentialities offered by this strange world. Some climb the inflatable structures, however shakily, or throw themselves onto their surface, making the others bounce. One of the dancers wears a motorcycle helmet and a leotard; he addresses the audience by making signs with his hands, straight as a rod. Another speaks to us in English and his words fall into the whole.

Their movements are repetitive, cyclical, as if they were trying to exhaust all coherence. Driven by robotic spasms, by a desire to run as fast as possible, by irrepressible screams, they evolve in a disorder which exceeds them and in which they struggle to build something. Each performer has their own physical personality. The fact that interactions are practically non-existent probably comes from this impossibility to reconcile everything: universal chaos dominates. But the connections are there, as deep as they are invisible.

Cyclical and chaotic structure

The show is structured by three successive movements; each one shorter than the previous one. Each time, it is an ascent towards a climax during which time seems suspended in the same movement. The percussion is rolling, the music is intense. Each dancer is in a trance, frozen in a single gesture, a contraction that is repeated indefinitely. Then suddenly everything stops. Silence returns. At first, we believe in a moment of calm, but we quickly realize that a kind of order had been established and that we must start all over again. The silence is like an explosion, a return to this spatial universe that does not let any noise pass.

During the second movement, a comic and very kitsch scene takes place. Though you expect everything to be over, one of the dancers starts a tearful speech, accompanied by a sunset projected onto the scenery and sentimental music. He lingers, goes to the audience in the front row, talks about great truths that ring hollow. Then again, this upward and irrepressible movement. The movements of the other dancers, slow at first, accelerate; they evolve in relation to each other, the sound of the music rises and the drummers start to play again. A new summit, majestic and grandiose. Before everything stops.

The dancers are on the ground. One of them is perched on one of the structures which inflates and deflates without him moving. This time it is a woman who speaks to us about the world and her youth, about a love scene between her grandparents that she witnessed. The movements of the dancers have something vaguely sexual. Everything is mechanical. This time the climax is an orgiastic scene: one of the dancers appears naked, the woman who was speaking takes off her top, two of the dancers move their pelvis convulsively. This third movement ends in a magnificent ochre luminosity. There is smoke everywhere and silhouettes appear out of this decaying universe. The chaos is total after this sexual madness. Then everyone leaves, one by one, and time stops.

Cascade is a trying experience of the universal chaos that overtakes us and that we find difficult to account for. Forming a collective, an "ecosystem", does not allow one to escape the forces at work. The cycle is perpetually reinventing itself. With a bang, Meg Stuart sets the tone for a festival that wants to reflect on contemporary issues.

17 Aug 2022
Zurich Theater Spectacle 2022: “Waterworks” by Meg Stuart

Lilo Weber

The American choreographer is coming back to Zurich. At the Theaterspektakel she not only sends dancers to Lake Zurich, but also the audience.

There was a time, long ago, when we could envy the dancers for their glittering tutus. Today we envy her for her wetsuit. It keeps your limbs warm against the swaying waves, while when we visit the rehearsal work, exposed to the moody winds, we swing along in this dance with the waves.

«The spectators experience the movements of the water on their own bodies and move with the waves, to a certain extent empathetically. You are in an unsafe place.” That is the idea of ​​the American star choreographer Meg Stuart for her latest piece «Waterworks». She developed it with the young Zurich company The Field on Lake Zurich around the Saffa Island and will premiere it as the prelude to the theater spectacle in 2022.

Protection against the wet

The audience is indeed moving on uncertain ground. It is pointed to floating pontoons in front of the island. Computers, mobile phones, everything that mustn’t get wet goes in a box. You are advised to take warm clothing with you. The program newspaper of the theater spectacle also recommends waterproof clothing and non-slip shoes. However, the clear, cool evening with a moderate breeze turns out to be rather harmless. Only the dancers get wet. However, the anchorages of the pontoons sometimes groan so loudly that they drown out the sound of the music designer Mieko Suzuki.

The audience now looks from the water to the land, where seven creatures – neither fish nor bird, something between human and animal – try to tell their stories. They speak with mute, increasingly pale lips, but constantly moved.

In a conversation before the rehearsal, Meg Stuart talked about fairy tales and fantasies that flowed into the play from the performers’ distant childhood and dissolved here in the water into a series of “dream-like realities”, as she calls it. But Meg Stuart speaks to the spirit of the women who drew attention to their share of economic and social work here on Saffa Island in 1958 at the Swiss Exhibition for Women’s Work (Saffa). “What if this island is surrounded by the tears of women?” In any case, “Waterworks” is also a play about sadness and tears.

The «Waterworks» project began with a commission from the company The Field, which was founded in 2019 at the Tanzhaus Zürich. Meg Stuart, not known for choreographing for other companies, accepted. The prospect of being able to work in Zurich again was too tempting. From 2000 to 2004 she was Artist in Residence with her Belgian company Damaged Goods at the Zurich Schauspielhaus, which was then directed by Christoph Marthaler.

She moved actors, involved them with the dancers in her pieces and got the craziest thing out of them. And she brought a breath of fresh air to the local dance scene, gave workshops at the Tanzhaus Zurich and at the same time proved that avant-garde can definitely thrive in the institution.

Angry Characters

Meg Stuart’s plays thrive on the weird types who populate them: angry characters, trembling, drooling, screaming, inside out. This called for extraordinary performers. And Meg Stuart has always known how to attract strong personalities. When she moved on from Zurich to the Volksbühne Berlin, some of her colleagues stayed behind, for example Simone Aughterlony, who has been convincing here with impressive performances for many years.

However, Meg Stuart largely designed «Waterworks» with young actors who had never worked with her before. “The members of The Field are very open and can improvise,” says the choreographer, adding: “Our aesthetics and our standards are not far apart, that was important to me.”

The work began in the studio, but it quickly lured the artists outside and to the lake. Here, in the knee-deep water, movements felt very different. Meg Stuart has always been interested in edges, in borders that she doubts and in transitions like here between water and land, nature and civilization.

loss and change

Where the waves slap the shore, the dancers crawl over the stones like lizards. Where the water gets deeper, they send out strange signals with their arms. The choreographer believes these are movements that could come from the unconscious. The water makes you lose control. «Whoever climbs a mountain will feel strong and resilient. Diving into the water, on the other hand, means letting go. It’s about loss, it’s about change, and it’s about how we can adapt in a changing world.”

In times when we fear for water, when rivers and lakes are getting smaller and smaller, the choreographer is not interested in the lack of water but in the loss of control. She couldn’t get the images of the floods in Germany last year out of her head, she says. “We’re moving in shallow water here, but the water can also develop a very destructive force here.” What if the waves of Lake Zurich lashed Saffa Island instead of gently licking the shore? Danger lurks in the shallows. They might erupt to the surface like the dark emotions in Meg Stuart’s earlier plays.

Original article (in German)

20 Aug 2022
“They want nothing less than everything!'

Gianna Rovere

The onlookers gaze from dry land into the water. The stand is swaying, and they become a little dizzy while following «Waterworks», developed by the renowned choreographer Meg Stuart in collaboration with the Zurich collective The Field for the Saffa-Insel. A daring opening of the festival.

Night is falling, and the audience sit down on a two-part, semicircular tribune made of swimming pontoons. For the next 90 minutes, it is floating on the water facing the Saffa-Insel. With «Waterworks» the American choreographer Meg Stuart challenges the audience’s imagination as well as the limits of her performers by declaring the steep bank slope the transition between nature and civilisation, and the shallow water their playground. She lets us witness how the performers caress and carefully explore the water, but also how violence can be evoked by the impact of bodies on it. A continuous gauging of possibilities and triggered feelings without following a single or clear narrative.

Initially the seven performers of «Waterworks» take their time to explore the water with their bodies. Bathed in golden light, they seek resistance, openings, dive down and up, playfully repeating their movements before slowly venturing out of the water over the bank slope. With exaggerated animalistic and exploratory movements –crawling lizard-like through the swirling dust or looking demonstratively into the distance – they appropriate the land. Sighting and being sighted. Over their wetsuits the performers are wearing costumes by Jean-Paul Lespagnard – among other items, urban camouflage streetwear which they discard by and by after conquering the land, and at the end exchange for pompous clothing or naked skin.

Hurt bodies in fast motion

After a first crisis, things are calming down again on the water. Six performers have gathered together on the gently rocking black raft floating before the audience. Exhausted, they lie or sit down, covering themselves with silvery shimmering scarves. Accompanied by melancholy music and soft light, an almost mellifluous picture – but for the associations of European migration policy and the misery connected with it, which creep upon the onlookers’ minds in the shape of media images. One nearly hopes that it’s over, yet it is impossible to avert one’s gaze. The more so as «Waterworks» is inspired by an almost uncanny aesthetics: drops of water glittering on the skin, dust swirling up, scarves floating through the water, and sequins reflecting the light. The latter is by Nico de Rooij and Elodie Dauguet, and together with the galactic-organic sound of the sound artist Mieko Suzuki helps the audience to hold on to something when they tire in their efforts to decipher the many discourses broached.

The piece generally avails itself of an intense symbol language where hands become pistols, necks are severed or weeping-willow branches carried to the water and pearls thrown into it. The piece’s narratives become ever more pointed, parallel narrative strands initiated, taken up again and pursued, to concentrate as well as dissipate in the end, blurring, watering down even. «Waterworks» offers a large field of resonance for associations regarding history, social policy, art, and pop culture, for example, surprising references to blockbusters such as «Titanic», «The Chronicles of Narnia», and part two of the American science-fiction series «The Hunger Games». But within this stimulus satiation, it manages to keep its urgency concerning the current situation of the world, talking about misuse of power, war, scarcity of resources, and climate catastrophes. The play with the water, the sand; with nature as a toolbox and backdrop – seemingly only there to be at mankind’s disposal. Just like the performers spread out slowly from the water to the shore and on over the island, mankind by now even managed to reach outer space.

Meg Stuart’s work often focusses on a vulnerable body putting itself into question. Could this perhaps be about Europe? For in front of the audience, a wild spectacle rife with discourse has just taken place, which can be read as the history of mankind and civilisation as perceived from the European perspective – in fast motion. Meg Stuart & The Fieldsucceed with a choreographic as well as artistic experiment which they go through with uncompromisingly, and which demands quite a bit of stamina from the onlookers. At the same time, it provides material for discussion. And even if they yell: «They want nothing less than everything!», due to the visual overflow one picture especially stays in memory, a well-known sight on the Saffa-Insel: two guys in swimming trunks with a cool box seeking a place to sunbathe. We’ve arrived in the present again.


17 Aug 2022
Consider, human, you are water

Valeria Heintges

Europe suffers from drought. The lawn on Zurich’s Landiwiese, too, is rather brown than green. But as usual, when the rain finally comes it’s at the wrong time. The wooden houses, the benches of the restaurants, the space for the central street theatre, the waysides where at other times street artists, ribbon weavers and henna painters sit – at the opening of the Theater Spektakel, everything gets drenched by the rain. Actually not so nice. And yet …

How fitting that several of this year's productions focus on water. Sylke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere with their company Campo from Belgium perform “Out of the Blue”, a work about deep-sea mining and raw material trading. For “What happens with a dead fish (Lake Zurich edition)”, the Lithuanian artist Lina Lapelyte lets her singers and herself float in Lake Zurich while singing about the growth and decay of life, foodstuffs, and nature. And “The Children of Amazi” with artists from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, and Belgium plays in a future where the great African lakes are dried out.

Beyond dance

First of all, though, the American choreographer Meg Stuart who lives in Berlin and Brussels, teamed up with The Field, a new Zurich-based company. The Field are committed to creating “interventions and stage performances which go far beyond what we commonly understand by dance”. The piece “Waterworks” fulfills this claim completely. The performance takes place on and in front of the Saffa-Insel, adjacent to the Landiwiese, which in former years housed the lake stage and was named after the Schweizerische Ausstellung für Frauenarbeit (Saffa – Swiss Exhibition for Women’s Labour) which was held here in 1958. The audience are sitting on two large pontoons arranged like pincers in the water near the shore and forming a little port bay. This is where the seven dancers perform, mostly in the water, protected and warmed by black, faintly glittering wetsuits.

They move slowly, excruciatingly slowly most of the time, sinking in the water, toppling, head over heels, drifting. Alarmed, one thinks of drowned bodies; and also of dying soldiers in lakes, oceans, rivers, because Pierre Piton is wearing a camouflage T-shirt. They become more hectical, flailing arms and legs or letting droplets fly from long hair. There’s splashing, gurgling and bubbling, the water playing a soundtrack of its own. Suddenly they swim towards us, crawl ashore like animals in a zoo pool, making us voyeurs and prison guards. Those who managed laboriously to crawl ashore over the large rocks appear awkward, knees buckling. Water beings becoming land beings, an arduous process.

Gurgling and bubbling

“Waterworks” can be read as the story of homo sapiens: consider, human, that you are water, and will return to water again. At the end they will have renounced it, lie in colourful trunks on beach towels under parasols and tip the dregs from their cool boxes into the water, which thereupon begins to seethe and fume fiercely. The water as garbage dump, poisoned, polluted. In between they move like amorphous creatures swathed in colourful scarves. Or, clad proud and stately in royal robes, enter boats which take them away out of our sight.

All this is accompanied by Mieko Suzuki's wafting soundtrack – which also gurgles and bubbles, sometimes even billows, blinks and beeps like Klaus Doldinger’s music for “Das Boot”, but in general remains vague and tuneless. All this leaves room for associations which mostly arise reliably, pleasing, frightening, fascinating. It happens occasionally that they find no foothold, which tends to draw things out especially towards the end. Oh, by the way: this evening the audience are sitting in the rain. Bags and suitcases safely stored in containers, ourselves protected by rain capes (how expedient not to allow umbrellas!), at one with the water and the coolness coming in from the lake, at least on this day, at least on this evening. The little water that’s left in the record-low lake still faithfully fulfills this purpose, too.



21 Apr 2021
Volta and Decoratelier, between temporality and future

Kurt Snoekx

Over the past five years, a new kind of ‘building out loud’ energy has permeated Brussels. Volta and Decoratelier are two of the organizations who have eagerly appropriated the city's white sheet. Today they have reached a point where the temporary is being exchanged for a sustainable future. "It doesn't have to be a law of nature that our organizations lose their soul when money is invested in them, does it?"

Two years ago, inspirer of Decoratelier Jozef Wouters punched a hole in a wall in a huge building on the Liverpoolstraat and, together with a super-diverse group of poetic voices and hands, brought a secret garden to fruition. That garden also turned out to be a performance: Underneath which rivers flow, a radically open, imaginative and moving 'building project' full of memories, wormholes and cosmic metaphors, against the backdrop of the Canal Plan, which today has recreated the property into a gaping void. "It's changed there, hasn't it," laughs Jozef Wouters. "When I see the park taking shape it actually doesn't look so bad. Although it remains to be seen for whom this new public space will serve."

The end of that building, doomed to disappear, marked the beginning of another one, in the Manchesterstraat, where today Decoratelier rubs shoulders with VK, Recyclart, CineMaximiliaan and Charleroi Danse. And where, in the midst of great activity, Jozef Wouters and kindred spirit Arne Huysmans, founder of Volta, which has recently nestled itself in the city's musical stream, welcome us for a conversation about how the city has offered their organizations a white sheet to project their dreams onto in recent years.

"It's busy, yes. We have to learn these weeks how closed or open the door should be. But it's necessary, the desire to do things in the neighborhood is huge," says Jozef Wouters in the courtyard that just last summer was transformed into a semi-public park with an outdoor theater, cinema, fitness, coffee shop and ice cream stand. "Arne gave us a gift with Volta at the time by programming a few things at our summer festival Something when it doesn't rain."

"And just a few weeks ago we filmed here for our showcase festival Chose Qui Bouge, which will now take place online," Arne Huysmans chimes in, as around us the parts are being built of what is supposed to be Pool Is Cool's public pool in July, not far from Studio CityGate, which houses Volta among others. "I think we both occupy a good gray area where we can keep it going. When you see how lively a place like this is... This shows the power of small organizations. Surely the invisible players in the crisis have been the big institutions."

In the face of those big houses, you propose a new kind of energy. When was the germ laid for the dreams that you have now built?

Jozef Wouters: When I returned from Antwerp to Brussels five years ago after my period at Scheld'apen (art center and former squat), I felt I had to take the next step. I no longer wanted to wait for invitations from directors, I wanted to create my own space to do scenography, for myself, but also for others. I wanted to be able to be a scenographer for the diversity that this city has. I founded Decoratelier when I was in residence at the KVS as part of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts working on INFINI 1-15 with different artists. Then Damaged Goods took me under their wing. They were able to rent that space in Liverpool Street and so I was able to take risks that I might not have taken if I had my own non-profit organization. And so I suddenly had more space than I needed myself. The big constant over the past five years was that it wasn't all that clear where it was going. But I did know that too much space is a good start.

Arne Huysmans: It literally gives room to ambition, yes. Volta grew out of my own artistic development: I studied drums at the conservatory, and I needed a place to make music. In Brussels, space for that is scarce. With five musicians I ended up in an old office building in the Rue Volta in Ixelles. Everyone had a bedroom and a rehearsal space. After a while people left, but I had fallen so much in love with the place that I started squatting and opening it up to others. Suddenly I had 700 square meters available. (Laughs) I felt that there was a need for a place where you can be free and experiment, where a stage is made available without having to meet certain economic values. If you want to perform at the AB or at the Botanique, you need to have a certain profile. We are committed to creation, support and presentation, but we do not ask our residents for an end result.

Wouters: (Nods) As a young artist, I realized pretty quickly that in the institutions where I worked, the most important choices had long been made. Who gets to enter? Until what time? How much for a beer? Does there even have to be beer? I want to be able to make those choices myself. The path that Menno (Vandevelde, technical director nof Decoratelier) and I have taken is mainly a quest for autonomy. I see the same in Arne's case: first you create a free space for yourself. And then automatically the question arises: how do we pass on this autonomy to others?

It's not automatic, opening up is probably in your character.

Wouters: Certainly. But it's also in the city. You can't walk around here today without noticing that there are a lot of people looking for a way to tell their own story, on their own terms.

Huysmans: That's essentially what we do: we provide a community with material, a well-insulated building and know-how, but it's the musicians who do it. A change in mentality does occur. Artists are often looking for a place just for them, but you simply don't have the square meters for that. And merely occupying a space is not enough. Something has to attach itself to the connective tissue of the city.

Wouters: In my search at the time for a space for Decoratelier I ended up at vzw Toestand, and the message on the phone was clear: "The last thing we need is an artists' studio." Rightly so, I think in retrospect. (Laughs) I have yet to see the first example where a building full of studios benefits the neighborhood. That's exactly the kind of construction that makes Entrakt rich, a private player pretending to develop the city. Entrakt also wanted this building, but then the region officials looked deep into our eyes and trusted us. Of course, it also helps when Damaged Goods is standing next to you.


"The first two years we brought empty bottles to Colruyt," laughs Arne Huysmans when asked how they manage financially. "At the moment we employ five people and we work with subsidies. For the time being, these are project subsidies for which we have to write dossiers every year, but in time we want to evolve towards structural subsidies. These give you the space to work with an artistic vision rather than an economic one. We have also received many proposals from the private sector, from Moortgat to Red Bull. You can accept them, but then you sell a piece of your soul."

Don't subsidies also create dependency?

Wouters: Because of the government, places like Decoratelier and Volta have been able to grow. But we all have to be clear together about the autonomy we want, keep the bar high together. It's important to draw a line in this ecosystem and complement each other. You can't do everything. Parties work well for us, theater less so. Other places do that better. We don't need to do music residencies either, but we can make room for Volta. We are part of something greater, which is a wonderful feeling. Sometimes that's about small things, you know. Volta having an extra fridge and dropping it here, for example.

Volta and Decoratelier started from a temporality. Is that an essential part of your dynamic?

Wouters: There’s two sides to it. I have always accepted temporality as an exchange for autonomy until now. At the same time, I want to be able to let go of this organization in about five years' time without it collapsing. For that to happen, it has to be sustainable. I think it's super important for our generation to constantly be on guard and say, "I am not my organization." If we do that well, it's going to set us apart from the generation above us.

Huysmans: It's painful when you've founded something that you've invested so much in yourself, but it's true: you have to be able to distance yourself from it in time. Because it becomes part of something bigger, the city, a community. Of everyone.

Wouters: And you also don't want to become that guy who, when he's fifty, stands at the bar shouting, "I founded this place." (Laughs)

Huysmans: It is especially important that the people you involve in your project share the same vision. You see that in large institutions, the more people you hire, the further away they get from the story.

Wouters: We have been around for five years now and people are starting to take it for granted that we are here. That's a very strange feeling, when you know yourself how precarious this still is, financially as well, and how quickly it can collapse. I try to find that very beautiful now, that I walk around here and people don't know who I am. Every morning I start with twenty minutes of meditation: Let go of Decoratelier! (Laughs)

Huysmans: A place should especially give you the feeling that things are still possible. That as a client or resident or artist you want to be part of something there instead of just temporarily visiting. You also have to give your successor the chance to dream in the way you dreamed.

Imagination is essential in what you guys do. That can be dismissed as dreaming. But you seem to be saying: if we don't dream, we build too small, too conventional, too exclusive.

Wouters: Small and large are relative. If you look at our calendar of activities, we are actually not that small. Our philosophy is: don't talk too much, build it. That Decoratelier logic has become a kind of undercurrent in everything we do. I'd like to test out that way of thinking in a big house someday. What happens if you make the Decoratelier central to a large arts center instead of hiding it in the basement? (Jokingly to Arne) Maybe you should go and talk to the Botanique? I'll do the Halles de Schaerbeek.

Huysmans: I share that feeling: I want to speak with my hands. Flor (Huybens) and I both have serious ADHD. (Laughs) We prefer to roll out our operation as we go along.

Wouters: The day before yesterday Menno arrived with a van full of steel. It was spontaneously unloaded by Zohir, who we got to know through Globe Aroma, Youssef, who was working in the gym at the time, and one of the residents. They don't have to, but it happens. That's so beautiful, those little moments when you feel that people care about the whole thing.

Huysmans: Other players have contributed quite a bit to the success of Decoratelier and Volta. Angèle, Lous and the Yakuza and other great bands that we hosted who then shared their satisfaction. Because they can subscribe to our ideas, like Damaged Goods could subscribe to the vision of Decoratelier.

Wouters: The fact that Leaving Living Dakota organized their parties here generated an energy that we could never have generated ourselves. Kunstenfestivaldesarts also invested in us from the beginning. You get an incredible amount from that network. That's very unique to this city, you know.


"The future? Now we have to be careful, Arne," jokes Jozef Wouters when we look ahead and point out that the temporary ground under our feet should have slowly acquired solidity by 2025. At that point, as part of the Heyvaert-Poincaré urban renewal program, Manchester Street should have become a permanent cultural site. "The future is taking shape in a fairly concrete way, yes. And that is accompanied by anxiety attacks. (Laughs) We are so used to determining and building everything ourselves. So seeing our future take shape in someone else's plans is a very brutal experience. At the same time, I realize that if we don't take a chance now, I'll have to start looking for a property again, clean it up, put in electricity... And it's not just for me anymore. I will always find a place, I think. But in the meantime, so many people depend on this space; that energy has to continue."

Volta will also be at that crossroads in the near future.

Huysmans: Yes, we have to leave Studio CityGate in 2023. That's crazy, you know, realizing that that amazing building will be demolished in two years. Our search for a new location started a year and a half ago. La Tentation turned out to be a dead end. Today we hope to move into the old Bodega on the Birminghamstraat, here behind this wall. That would make us neighbors. (Laughs) We have made an offer. It hasn't been accepted yet, but it's being worked on very hard.

Wouters: And the plans for the Manchesterstraat do take into account that it might come to that.

The DIY spirit is great in both of you. Using it in a joint story sounds very exciting. But don't you lose a bit of that autonomy when you end up in something that is created top-down?

Huysmans: Well, everyone thinks DIY is so super-attractive. You have organizations that have been around for twenty years, still work very unprofessionally and call that DIY. For us that's not a spirit, it's the only option. We are DIY because we don't yet have the means to work differently.

Wouters: Building dance floors DIY is fun. Paying people DIY is not.

Huysmans: On the other hand, of course, that framework also takes away possibilities. Being able to change the shape of a building, make spaces multifunctional, is something I need. It stimulates creativity.

Wouters: But the architecture, that's the easy part. You can intervene in the hardware. It is the software that will present us with challenges. The price per square meter, that is the essence. If it is four times as high as it is now, the only people left here will be advertising agencies, who think we make too much noise or who eat so many expensive croissants that the stores in the neighborhood completely change. (Laughs) The question you ask is really for the city: how are they going to invest in the energy that they seem to value, without destroying it? It doesn't have to be a law of nature that organizations like ours lose their soul when money is invested in them, does it? This is a frightening moment, but I do think we should try. And I feel stronger if we can do it together.

Huysmans: That synergy is also what we are looking for. Having a place now feels like a long-term solution to a great need. But a place is just a place. The energy is what makes people happy and creative. Everything that happens in Volta in terms of creation, meetings and so on, flows through to other places. And that's allowed, that's what we want to be. But it starts with an attitude in all the houses that we share the same city, the same money, the same audience. Isolating yourself is not the right way to work today.

At the same time, don't you create an island in the city with that one street, taking culture out of the fabric that permeates it?

Huysmans: Sometimes it almost feels like someone is playing Sims for the cultural sector, yes. A shopping mall for the culture lover. That is not how it works, of course. But if you start from the organizations that are already there, a beautiful dynamic can arise.

Wouters: It is not by erecting a glass facade or opening a rooftop patio for the residents that it will not become an island. You don't create or avoid an island with space, you do that with the energy of the organizations. Apart from that, is it a good idea to throw so many cultural organizations onto one little square? Maybe not. But they're going to do it, so we can at least try to make something of it. If that doesn't work out, then we'll look for freedom elsewhere.

07 Sep 2021
Escape from the safe space

Sébastien Hendrickx

Original version (in Dutch)

‘Welcome back after the break,’ Davis Freeman says in CASCADE, Meg Stuart’s latest piece and the season opener at Kaaitheater after the ‘break’ of the lockdowns. The choreographer does it again: releasing powerful emotions – ‘gut feelings’ with abstract performing art.

What an experience it was to be able to set foot in the big theater of Kaaitheater. A place that you’ve visited so often in the past fifteen years, that holds countless memories of past performances, and that had lost its ability to be taken for granted, its familiarity, during the lockdowns. Now you’re there again, in a packed auditorium, smack in the middle of the murmurs and the aerosol-coughing and the expectant shuffling, looking forward to what’s coming. Without masks? Yes, without masks! Thanks to the QR-code the state gives to the double vaccinated and that is scanned by the theater crew at the entrance, we can assume this room is a safe space, pandemically speaking at least. Right? Mmm, more like a safer space.


In 2021 there is no theater for the unvaccinated. What the hell should you think of that? These days, you’ll find stickers on the seats of the Bourla theater in Antwerp, that say ‘Have a safe seat’. Imagine it’s 2019 and you find this phrase on the seat you’ve reserved … Each day, reality is becoming stranger than most fiction. The debate that you are starting to have inside your head, is quickly silenced. Not now. Just sit, empty your head, watch.

You feast your eyes on the scene. Out of the snowwhite dance floor, to the right a ramp emerges, too short for skiing and too narrow for skating. To the left there are two big, inflatable hills, draped with vinyl cloths, printed with a kitschy purple-and-blue night sky. From the fly tower, thick ropes hang down to the floor, next to two big nets that encircle rough foam blocks. Cilindrical LED-lights scatter white light across the scene which, together with wisps of smoke, creates an enchanting atmosphere. In terms of genre, we’re somewhere in between fantasy and sciencefiction.

Like so often in Stuart’s work, the scenography plays a crucial role here. No wonder she decided to invite the autonomous scenographer Jozef Wouters to join her company Damaged Goods. In both artists’ work, scenography is much more than a practice that creates a ‘scene’, in the sense of decorative, atmospheric surroundings. In CASCADE too, the scenography, this time by visual theater maker Philippe Quesne, is part of a multi-media force field. Architectural elements are inextricably connected to light, sound, music, costumes and above all movement. Scenography activates the performers and is activated by them: one of the ropes turns out to be a vine they can use to jump from one inflatable hill to the next, with the other rope they can let down one of the foam-filled nets and pull it back up again; they drag the starry skies off the hills and, moments later, these reappear as enormous visual backdrops, or infinis.


The most activating element of them all is the ramp that dominates the scene. Throughout the performance, the performers climb it and descend from it. The word ‘cascade’ means, in the first place, ‘waterfall’, ‘rapids’, but if we may believe the online dictionary, it also has something to do with fireworks and an acrobat’s leap. The ramp creates the expectation that you will get to see the typical three-stage movement that a cascade always more or less comprehends. It exists of (1) a moment of hesitation, risk, a tipping point that sizzles with excitement and unrealized potential, (2) a sudden, exponential acceleration, an escalation that goes hand in hand with a loss of control and (3) a cooldown, running into delightful laziness, self-abandonment, rest.

Sometimes this movement actually happens right before our eyes in a diagonal line from the upper right-hand corner in the back to the bottom left corner in the front. More than once Pieter Ampe comes thundering down the incline at a dizzying speed, finally tumbling across the edge of the stage in a wide arch, landing safely on a big, dark cushion. It’s just shy of crowdsurfing. In another moment, the accelerating, propelling movement forces him to jump off the left side of the stage, jog past the audience seats and disappear through a side door. More often still, against all scenographic expectations, the ramp actually generates slow movements, stasis even. A performer hooks the tips of his shoes behind the upper ledge and hangs on for a while, lying on his belly; most dancers wear sneakers with soles that have so much traction they can go down the incline very carefully, step by step; one of them slides down on his belly but the weight of his own body, the friction of his clothes on the wooden surface and his hand holding the side offer enough resistance to make this happen at a snail’s pace.


In CASCADE Stuart constantly seems to stretch the moment of hesitation – the first phase of the three-stage movement – like a film that malfunctions. The carefulness, the viscous resistance against risk and loss of control, also shows in the jerky, uncoordinated and restrained movements the performers make throughout the piece, on or next to the ramp. Their movements are often interrupted even before they can be realized. Are the creatures that people this bizarre universe acrobats with a fear of heights? Acrobats afraid to jump? You wonder if we haven’t all become a little more like that after one-and-a-half years of Covid-Covid-Covid: people who play it safe, who are increasingly averse to risk in a world full of near-invisible dangers. Ampe’s cowboy pants, at times ostentatiously emphasized by hooking his thumbs behind the belt – a typical cowboy pose – evoke western movies: in these dusty towns you had better keep your hand close to your revolver, too. But it rather seems like we have collectively ended up in a sci-fi movie, where even hugs and giving hands have lost the everyday innocence they once had.

Clearly, it is hard in these times to put down the Covid-interpretation glasses, but the frugal snippets of text that Tim Etchells created together with the perfomers quite emphatically point towards the pandemic. Especially the first. Like a Late night show host, microphone in hand, Davis Freeman addresses us with his warm American bass: ‘welcome back, it’s been too long.’ The two or three other text moments later in the performance have a comparably dubious quality that you find frequently in Stuart’s work. The words and inflections are somewhere between irony and sincerity, between a personal confessional tone and that of the slightly ridiculous group therapist who wants to instill courage and confidence in his followers.


The music is what really wakes the creatures on stage from their half-paralyzed state. Brendan Dougherty and Philipp Danzeisen execute it live, barely visible in the gap between the stage and the audience seats. At first, we hear soft, subtle, atmospheric sounds, that help generate the impression of an extraterrestrial dream world; it doesn’t turn into music until the rhythm section is introduced. And how! You could say that the dramaturgical arch of the performance itself evokes a cascade. Towards the end, the exhilarating drumming à quatre mains creates a twofold phase of wildness and extasy, a collective leap into the unknown.

Something in the rhythm is not right, it is off the hook. At least, every now and then, one of the two musicians happens to beat too wildly, too fast and too loudly. It’s an action that suggests a loss of control and is contagious because of this. Together with the busily flickering blue-purple-white-pink light of the LED-lights and the intensity of the jumble of movements on stage, the music strikes your own body. Is it adrenaline? In any case you can feel the energy bubbling up inside of you; you can’t seem to keep this one leg quiet. And you don’t want to. You want to join in. Ah, if only you could!

The second extatic moment differs from the first in the sense that the movements of the performers are a bit less uncontrollably all over the place. Something is coming together, briefly, more or less. A couple of drums and cymbals join in a colorful parade that circles the whole stage, from the front to the back, and back to the front. Everything is consistently jingle-jangling out of tune. Are we looking at a ritual community? That interpretation probably skews too much towards a happy end to fit a piece by Meg Stuart. Certainly, we are seeing wildness, a lust for life and a defiance of death, the wastefulness and risk of a party. In a visceral way, CASCADE confronts us with our desire for all of this after Covid-Covid-Covid.

19 Jul 2021
Spectacular "CASCADE" at ImPulsTanz: Meg Stuart Tests our Sense of Time

Der Standard
Helmut Ploebst

The choreographer leads the audience at the Volkstheater on a journey to heaven and hell through a wide spectrum of emotions.

Thick fog on the stage of the Volkstheater, very slowly the light dims, the music drifts away – and all at once it is dark. From the auditorium a man's loud voice, relieved and indignant, penetrates the silence before the roar of applause: "Well, finally!" This ingenious moment showed: this person has lived with, suffered with, and absolutely understood what it was all about. Because the central theme in the dance piece "CASCADE" by Meg Stuart is indeed time.

This call from the bottom of a man's heart was also a beautiful moment of acknowledgment for the American choreographer working in Berlin, who watched the premiere of her work from the audience, after rehearsals which had been spread over months. Due to the pandemic, the premiere had to be postponed again and again. This, too, was a game of time, yet one which could not be passed over as easily if you were uncomfortable with its duration.

Being on pins and needles

One of the most intense experiences in the theater – right after a deep sense of enjoyment – is feeling like you are on pins and needles. There can be a cathartic challenge once in a while that seems to grow longer and longer. Indeed, Stuart has built passages into her play that drag on – but then again, there are those that jar, compress or trip up the audience's experience of time.

Scenographer and director Philippe Quesne's set design is enlightening. A large photographic panorama of space with stars, galaxies and even a cosmic nebula forms the background and covers two oversized air cushions on which seven dancers crawl, step around or jump. This image is complemented by a steep ramp, which presents possibilities of ascent and descent.

Capturing the nature

The cosmic environment for the small group on stage acts as an indication that both time as such and a vivid sense of time are the products of a nature that is infinitely larger than our planet. What we call "culture" consists of our common attempts to somehow grasp this nature and our existence in it. Culture is a valuable, often also dangerous product of nature, which can be washed away like nothing by a climate change that is not spectacular from a cosmic point of view.

"CASCADE" proves to be an artistic reflection on the experience of time as a cultural phenomenon and as such is magnificently "unnaturally" staged from the first to the last moment. At one point, the group, driven by Brendan Dougherty's dynamic percussion, scurries about as if out of their minds, then again they lie prostrate. In between, a performer recites an ironically banal text by Tim Etchells, costumes are changed, and everyone starts staggering around.

Art experience

One of the qualities that has made choreographer Meg Stuart so great for three decades is her talent for bringing the audience emotionally close to the abyss without becoming emotionally destructive. In "CASCADE", too, the fabric of the piece is not explained, but sent into the auditorium in the form of aesthetic impulses, via dance, music, light and spatial staging. This can happen stealthily, in deceptive serenity, or in the form of violent eruptions.

Accordingly, this work is not a didactic piece about time, but a heaven-and-hell ride through a wide spectrum of emotions and through cultural props such as character patterns and allusions to ritual. "CASCADE" does not serve as propaganda as many other performances currently do, but as an art experience with all the contradictions inherent to nature.

Therefore, the audibly relieved cry "Finally!" at the end seems almost more fitting than the abundant and well-deserved applause afterwards. For in the cascades of time everything is – finite.

29 Jul 2021
CASCADE: Using the Sky

PW Magazine
Gianna Virginia Prein

Meg Stuart and her company Damaged Goods climb the sky in their new piece "CASCADE," which premieres this year at ImPulsTanz. Or they bounce off an inflated landscape of stars in slow motion – in "CASCADE" everything seems to be in quest of the present.

The universe on 50x6 meters: as a wrinkled mantle in which one gets lost, as an oversized sleeping blanket under which one can hide, as a crumpled curtain, at times enclosing Philippe Quesne's stage, on which seven performers dance.

We are overcome by romantic sentimentality as soon as we look at the evening sky outside the city and are confronted with how tiny and ephemeral we are in relation to the supposedly infinite universe. The scale shifts automatically with every form of representation.

To expose the kitsch, familiar motifs are superimposed in "CASCADE". Waves on the beach are projected onto the starry sky to the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love"; there is a bit of singing along and looking into the audience. Improvised elements, seen in isolation, reinforce the individuality of each performing body. Sometimes recognizable motifs shine through, but nothing seems to be heading towards anything concrete. The piece oscillates between lively dancing and self-contained movements. Is this meant as a caricature of physical forces, a critique of the dominance of temporal linearity in the West?

Nonlinear narrative forms are common in post-dramatic theater. However, when the narrated world itself is anachronistic, this is a typical aspect of sci-fi, which can express itself, for example, in the form of loops or time holes. In "Ghosts of My Life" (2008), Mark Fisher writes that our internet- and telecommunication-driven culture has lost the ability to grasp or articulate the present. Or that there might not even be any present left to grasp: "the notion of linear development has given way to a strange simultaneity" – In "CASCADE" the dancers on stage perform isolated acts of simultaneity: exertion, exhaustion, rest, and so on. Movements that look like casual interruptions, characteristic of Meg Stuart’s work, become recognizable in the end, when the performers wipe off their sweat. The beat and the movements drift apart completely, exhausting linear time, dissecting, even butchering it. This can also be read as an attempt to finally find the Now. Meanwhile, Brendan Dougherty and Philipp Danzeisen pound the drums hard – goosebumps. Can we say that through this we are now in the now? Or now?

One approach is given by BLACK QUANTUM FUTURISM, a group of black activists and artists. They name eight cornerstones that together constitute the "now" and are not separated from past and future: emotions, sounds, time of day, place, other people or objects, smells, colors, and another open variable. Together they form a present that is dependent on one's own physical perception and consciously opposes Western time, which is based on numbers. The canvases that make up the universe of CASCADE are dragged from the two rock-shaped balloons, which at times collapse. A performer is stuck between being nestled and being trapped in the landscape. Only the ramp, which also allows the performers to constantly go up and down, remains unchanged throughout the piece.

In her book "Using the Sky: A Dance" Deborah Hay, one of the most important actors of the experimental Judson Dance Theater in the 60s in New York, describes the perception of time and space and how it is visualized in the body. The title of the book is also a reflection on her self-created Turn-Your-Fucking-Head method, (TYFH). Movement material, which can already be found in her body, here becomes – via the changed view towards the audience, towards herself – the sky, the dance. In Hay's work, the Now manifests itself in a constant shift from here to there. In a more complicated way, CASCADE refers to the way we cling to the stars for scientific orientation, allowing people to draw conclusions about themselves:

Chunks of foam hang above the stage like fish in a net until at some point they are thrown down like meteorites and almost kill a performer – and then again, because it was so beautiful – before they bounce silently on the stage floor.

06 Sep 2021
Cosmic comfort in a world in disarray

De Standaard
Charlotte De Somviele

Meg Stuart has been making groundbreaking dance theater for the past thirty years, but time and time again, you get the feeling: I ain’t seen nothing yet.

One tip before you go to see CASCADE: don’t expect any logic or clear message. Just use your senses and your imagination. Meg Stuart’s new piece is an overwhelming and mysterious trip that only works if you surrender to it completely. Laws don’t count in this dream world, with a scenography by theater maker Philippe Quesne. Amorphous air cushions change shape constantly, a slide looks like the gate between the universe and the earth, future and past. Is this a post-apocalyptic universe or a starry sky at the dawn of time? You don’t have a clue.

The seven performers, too, have lost all sense of dimension. They trip, stutter, wrestle and stagger, burst from their orbits. Just like time is out of joint, so are their bodies. Any effort to discover a pattern in their actions is futile. All that becomes clear is a state of dislocation, a search for stability and connection in a world that has become inhospitable.

It’s mainly the radical play with time that makes CASCADE such a special experience. Again and again, Stuart lets her dancers toggle between compulsive hyperactivity and immobility. Several times, the piece reaches a zero point, before being driven towards ecstasy again. The only thing to hold on to is Brendan Dougherty’s entrancing musical score.

CASCADE could easily be seen as a metaphor for the way in which our species is destroying the planet. Yet this is not the baseline. With great compassion and a sense of humor, Stuart looks at the resilience of the little human trying to hold their own in a world that is in disarray. And as the stage comes alive, you realize that the sky and the stars will keep on spinning, even after we have long been gone. Call it a kind of cosmic comfort.

29 Nov 2021
'Cascade' by Damaged Goods: seven dream chasers and no plot

Knack Focus
Els Van Steenberghe

'What dream do you have to give up in order to keep dreaming'? This is the question choreographer Meg Stuart presented to her dancers. The result is the dream chasing party Cascade.

'Even the heavens have fallen down.' That's what you think when you enter the theater where Cascade, the newest piece by choreographer Meg Stuart, is being shown.

The stage is dominated by two giant, shapeless air cushions. They look like abstract adult bouncy castles. Stretched over the airbags are tarps on which scenographer Philippe Quesne painted a colorful starry sky. There is also a steep, wooden ramp. Between the stage and the first row of spectators stands a hefty drum set. Above the stage hang two fishing nets full of beige debris. They look like the debris from ancient, Greek temples.

'Welcome to the post-apocalyptic world!", this set seems to sigh. Very slowly, an arm appears on top of one of the air cushion. On the other cushion, a leg appears. Suddenly, someone pops out of the wings. All the performers - seven in total - 'slide' onto the stage and move slowly. As if they were exhausted after surviving a global disaster. The music - performed live by composer Brendan Dougherty and drummer Philipp Danzeisen - also sounds relaxed. Dougherty is the conductor of the whole thing: he drives the rhythm.

The dancers are initially tempted to dance to the rhythm of the music. Gradually they tear themselves away from that rhythm more and more. What are they dancing? Their dreams. Really. Dreams like: being able to fly, being an astronaut, being weightless, being proposed to, being a Martian, being able to dance like a teenager again, being rocked like a baby again, ... The dancers pursue these dreams on colorful sneakers and with enthusiastic use of the techniques for falling Stuart taught them. Virtuoso falling is done with great pleasure.

As a spectator, you tumble along. From one dream to another. From one virtuoso dance solo into another sensual duet. In the meantime, the celestial backdrop stretches from destruction to the heavens and suddenly you even hear the Bee Gees singing How Deep is Your Love. It would be a beautiful but too saccharine ending, so Stuart adds a few more scenes.

There are just a few too many. During the last half hour, no matter how punchy the soundscape and how fresh the images, the rhythm slacks. A melting vanilla ice-cream scoop walks across the stage (of course we're not making this up!), a masked man with purple hair in his birthday suit strolls across the stage and Pieter Ampe, dressed in a neat suit, talks about how he regained his freedom in life and how, as a young forty-year-old, he loves to do puzzles, ...

Aha! Puzzling. That seems to be the baseline of Cascade. Meg Stuart puzzles together a portrait of the post-apocalyptic world. She asks the audience to do what we should also do as a society: puzzle together a new reality with everything we have left plus our free-spirited imagination. You puzzle and grope for meaning but find, for now, only other groping hands....

Finally, the pounding drums smash all dreams to pieces. The lights flicker. In this way Cascade becomes a touching and rock & roll portrait of the state in which the world now finds itself and of the state in which humanity finds itself: awake but tired and wandering and feverishly searching for solutions. In the meantime there is dancing and drumming. Despite the confusion, it is shamelessly enjoyed. On stage and in the audience.

07 Feb 2021
The 7 Best Exhibitions in the EU

Frieze Magazine
Carina Bukuts

‘CC: World’
Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany

In Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s series of online commissions, ‘CC: World’, the entire globe is invited to engage with a range of works by artists, writers and thinkers. Clock (2020), a video of Berlin-based choreographer Meg Stuart and her dance company moving beautifully on the iconic curved roof of HKW speaks to the difficulties of pursuing dance and performance practices during a pandemic. Elsewhere, Situation 11 (2020) – a video collage by author Claudia Rankine and filmmaker John Lucas – investigates the perilous ramifications of false accusations against Black men by white women. Another contributing artist is Hito Steyerl who, when asked by frieze what art is for, replied: ‘Ideally, to be accessed for free’ – a principle that ‘CC: World’ fully embraces.

Read the full article.

18 Jul 2021
"CASCADE": An eternity on bouncy castles

Die Presse
Thomas Kramar

Meg Stuart and her group Damaged Goods at the Volkstheater: at times lengthy, at times brief and concise, but definitely a fascinating play with time.

In museums, eternity is on trial, as is said in Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna". That line came to the mind of the dance spectator, who has been notoriously starved for words, during the first part of Meg Stuart's "CASCADE," especially because of Dylan’s following phrase: "Voices echo, this is what salvation must be like after a while."

For what creates the impression of eternity in Stuart's hypnotic production, on a stage sprinkled with a pinch of museum dust by Philippe Quesne, is the percussive music: each sound triggers multiple echoes, setting off a pulsating rhythm that always peters out again, as if all of a sudden time stood still.

Or do you only feel this way because you have dutifully read the program booklet, which states that the "seven dancers are searching for ways to resist the arrow of time"? That they "drive their bodies and imaginations into a new time-space"? Perhaps such delicately convoluted texts give too much in the way of interpretation. So what did you see? People moving on inflated shapes – like the bouncy castles in well-equipped indoor playgrounds – and on an inclined plane, sometimes steady, sometimes jerkily, against a backdrop of stars and galaxies. Nets hang from the ceiling, filled with objects made of foam. Intergalactic garbage? Someone with a helmet makes signs with his fingers: numbers, letters from another civilization?

Back to the start

After a time – or an eternity? – an older dancer – the pack’s leader? – begins to speak: "Welcome back. It's been long. It's been too long. Back to the start. Everything looks different, but it has stayed the same.” And so on. Variations on the Nietzschean motif of eternal return.

This is followed by more choppy dancing, there's a little tussling on the slippery slope, until the rhythm falters again and everything freezes. Then again an intense escalation, even a gong is added, like in early Pink Floyd etudes à la "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun". After a new freeze, an unexpectedly sweet melody follows, the cosmic backdrop mutates into a seascape. Again someone speaks: about puzzles and how to put the pieces together. He longs, he says, for the "Sea of Tranquility". And he assures us, "We're all gonna be okay."

Again and again: buildup, then an abrupt halt. Holding your breath, breathing a sigh of relief. Stars rise, stars fall. At the end, while the dances seem more and more like the rites of an ancient tribe, the fog conquers the stage.

Fascinating meta-dance theater, which has its lengths, but it should have them. After all, it's about eternity, and as we all know, that lasts the longest.

19 Jul 2021
Dancing in a burning world

Sazburger Nachrichten
Julia Danielczyck

At the ImPulsTanz festival, the premiere of Meg Stuart's "CASCADE," postponed because of the pandemic, takes on a new meaning.

It is pretty sensational that the international ImPulsTanz festival can take place at all this year, since the pandemic has disrupted so many plans. Meg Stuart's latest production "CASCADE" was also supposed to premiere a year ago. Now the performance, which presents peculiar places and distant times, takes on a new meaning.
Together with French director and stage designer Philippe Quesne, who was also a guest at the Wiener Festwochen with his post-apocalyptic productions, choreographer Meg Stuart has set up a theatrical research station on stage, which seven actors traverse with their bodies. It is a decidedly heterogeneous team of old and young performers, slim and robust, men and women with different skin colors. They are all affected by the fact that the earth is rapidly overheating and that a virus is keeping the entire world in check.
Nets filled with foam boulders hang from the flybars of the Volkstheater. The researchers, dressed in workout gear and workwear, lie on plastic clouds and soft mounds, obviously exhausted by earth’s demands. Slowly they begin to move, performance artist Davis Freeman greets his colleagues, "Welcome back, back in time." A researcher in a motorcycle helmet sends signals into space with fingers outspread, protecting himself from the hurtling rubber debris despite their apparent weightlessness. It remains unclear whether the dancers are still on Earth or already on another planet that follows alien laws. In any case, they jump, stomp and bump against invisible forces, move forwards or backwards like caterpillars, run – almost at right angles – on a ramp, to find out what life is like here.
Composer Brendan Dougherty, together with Philipp Danzeisen, provides the music, which repeatedly swells deafeningly and then promptly stops again, so that complete silence reigns. Then suddenly a relaxing murmur can be heard and instead of the Milky Way a backdrop of ocean waves appears in the background. But it seems to be a mirage. A nice memory of the past. Philippe Quesne's stage is dominated by withered landscapes, the result of a policy that promises clean water but continues to seal off the soil. In the end, the dancers tear off their clothes, drum and dance a kind of eco-ritual, while the ceiling in the auditorium of the newly renovated Volkstheater is leaking slightly. This in turn can be seen as a happy accident with regard to the staging: Nature wins against technology, even if the latter is state of the art.
"CASCADE" talks about the consequences of our actions and about the solutions nature creates for itself. But the performance is also a celebration of the love of life, of the body, an expression of ecstasy and joy about the fact that ImPulsTanz Is back.


19 Mar 2019
A secret garden full of dreams

De Standaard
Charlotte De Somviele

Artist Jozef Wouters pieces together a dream with newcomers from Globe Aroma

Jozef Wouters’ Decoratelier speaks to the imagination. The scenographer has taken possession of an old cardboard factory in the Heyvaert district of Molenbeek, a former no-go zone and the Mecca of the second-hand car trade. Wouters and his team not only design sets for fellow artists, they also provide residences for young creatives and are poised to open a temporary architecture school, in collaboration with the neighbourhood.

In this ‘art institute of the future’, Wouters is working for a year with newcomers from the Globe Aroma art house. Everyone in the group is at a different stage of their journey towards refugee status, but Globe Aroma offers them all a safe haven for artistic development. Last year, the place was confronted with an anti-terror raid (DS, 10 February 2018) in which seven undocumented migrants were arrested.

In this light, Underneath Which Rivers Flow is the most powerful response imaginable. During the first working week, Wouters discovered an empty space adjacent to the Decoratelier. Together with the group, he symbolically cut a hole through the wall and they claimed the space as a clandestine studio. It became a place where everyone could piece together, without a written plan, their dreams in recycled wood, iron, brick waste and cardboard. Wouters calls it ‘building out loud’. The chaos of ideas led to the design of a secret garden, analogous to the city’s plans to upgrade the neighbourhood and to create a park on the Decoratelier site.

The future vision that Wouters and Globe Aroma have created for the district is nothing short of magical. When you’ve crept through the brick hole, a landscape full of original buildings lights up in the darkness: a carousel stands next to a four-metre-high wooden remake of a Bialetti coffee pot, which later turns out to house a teahouse. A camera pans over a miniature park with miniature people and trees, a giant wheel spins like a planet around its axis. A young girl invents new names for the constellations and as we close our eyes, the performers whisper to us their crazy plans for new buildings.

The performance is only a prologue to the concluding tour that the group will give of its imaginary park. Fiction is becoming ever more real; the theatrical gaze is giving way to encounters.

Underneath which rivers flow is the provisional highlight of Wouters’ profound political, ecological and social commitment. His ability to transform spaces, and therefore the people who inhabit them, is exceptional. It is rare to see such a radically utopian art, one that uses an unbridled imagination to create a genuine sense of freedom and resistance.

13 Mar 2019
SECRET GARDENS: An essay for 'Underneath Which Rivers Flow'

Guy Gypens

One year ago, on 9 February 2018, a federal inspection team flanked by police raided the non-profit workspace and meeting place Globe Aroma. Globe Aroma is an arts centre located in the heart of Brussels that offers newcomers space, time and support to find their place in the city through cultural and artistic exchange. The raid was part of the anti-terrorism operation of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs, which is also known as Jan Jambon’s Canal Plan. The checks were conducted with great thoroughness and even brutality. Three people who did not have the correct identification papers were arrested and detained in the closed centre in Steenokkerzeel. The cultural and socio-cultural world reacted to the raid with horror and condemnation. This Safe Haven, the safe space and the trusting relationships that it fosters had been violated, making the task of investing in con-structive cultural work impossible. The reaction from some political quarters was equally harsh. “They needn’t think they are above the law! If they have nothing to hide then they needn’t fear the raids.”

February 2018 also marked the beginning of the operational process of Underneath Which Rivers Flow, Jozef Wouters’ project organized in close cooperation with newcomers associated with Globe Aroma. Behind the Decoratelier, Wouters had discovered a large, adjacent, abandoned space. At the first meeting with the project group, they knocked a hole through the wall and symbolically ‘occupied’ the empty space as a workspace for the coming year. A new Safe Haven was carefully opened after another one had been violently disrupted.

Both the existing Decoratelier and the space behind it are part of a major urban renewal pro-ject that has been launched in the framework of the Zinneke Sustainable Quarter Contract. The block between Nijverheidskaai, Liverpoolstraat, Heyvaertstraat and Gosseliesstraat is part of the Abattoir Quarter. Until the 1950s, the buildings here were mainly occupied by meat wholesalers. Due to new European health and safety guidelines, many of the meat sellers were forced to leave in the 1980s. From that point on, the empty industrial buildings were gradually occupied by second hand car dealers, many of which are still there. Over the past ten years, there has been heated debate as to the desirability of having the car trade in this area of the city. The Municipality of Molenbeek and the Brussels Capital Region opted for a policy that would move the car trade to the Brussels Docks. The acquisition of the large Libelco Hall – at the centre of the aforementioned block – by the Municipality of Molenbeek in 2015 has to be understood in this context. The plans are to transform the block into a park with a covered public winter garden (in the Libelco Hall), and a crèche, intergenerational residential project, production studios focused on recycling (Cyclo, Atelier Groot Eiland), and the remodelling of the banks of the canal (lowered banks with a kayak quay).

Brussels is not exactly a model of excellent con-temporary urban planning. Since the 1990s, the majority of European cities have capitalized on the economic boom and of local and European development funds to make their centres and outskirts more spatially liveable and economi-cally appealing, but Brussels has tended simply to observe these developments passively. It was as though the city had not processed the traumas of major and merciless interventions, such as the building of the Northern Quarter or the European Quarter, and had developed a deep suspicion to any hint of urban planning. This has gradually changed over the past ten years. The masterplan for the Canal Zone and the recent ambition to redress the drama of the Northern Quarter are just two examples of a new approach.

Brussels can turn its lagging behind other cities to its advantage by learning from their mistakes. Many of the recent urban development projects have been focused on creating an ‘open and transparent city’, but this has often not resulted in more social and cultural inclusion. An ‘open city’ is not necessarily an inclusive city. Public space is all too often perceived as being solely about absolute openness and physical accessibility. From this perspective, isolation and seclusion are considered enemies. But recent research conducted by Metrolab Brussels (1) demonstrates that there is a need for enclaves in the city: more or less secluded spaces where activities can take place and experiences can be shared. Urban inclusion is essentially about creating possibilities for people to participate in the city and its space. Hospitality is a key concept in this regard, and it goes much further than simply removing physical barriers or cultivating a personal moral attitude. A hospitable environment or space for ‘the other’ is inviting and attractive, it opens up possibilities, puts people at ease, and offers shelter and protection. To feel welcome somewhere, you have to be able to arrive somewhere. The gateway to a public space need not always just be open to anybody. Inclusiveness by no means implies or equates to being open and free all the time. Metrolab calls these types of public spaces inclusive enclaves. A key element here is the combination of their capacity to be open and their capacity to be closed. At the same time, they function as safe havens in the city, gateways to the city, and steppingstones to urban districts and territories.

In 2012, the German-Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han wrote a fascinating essay enti-tled The Transparency Society (2). He states that transparency is about much more than fighting corruption and fostering decent governance. It is about the modern urge to exhibit oneself constantly. He critiques this one-dimensional, disenchanted society in which nothing is left to the imagination. He argues in favour of seclusion, distance, and secrecy. His primary objection to total visibility is that it ultimately comes at the price of freedom. It leads to tyranny in the form of a new kind of panopticon. Control is no longer exercised from one centre or perspective, but has become aperspectival and all-encompassing. “The society of control achieves perfection when its inhabitants do not communicate because of external constraint but out of inner need – that is, when the fear of giving up a private and intimate sphere yields to the need to put oneself on display shamelessly.” Han is referring here, of course, to the digital world and our exhibitionism on social media, but this line of thought can be applied to public spaces just as easily. Nowadays, parks are designed to make it almost completely impossible to disappear or conceal yourself in them. Public space should be neutral, open and transparent. Everything and everyone should be visible and readable so that the total surveillance of actions and behaviours can be guaranteed. “But”, Han wonders, “is freedom of action not fostered by trust, and isn’t trust only possible in a state of knowing and not-knowing? Trust implies building a positive relationship with the other despite the not-knowing. Where transparency prevails, no room for trust exists. One should not say: ‘transparency creates trust’, but: ‘transparency dismantles trust’. The demand for transparency grows louder precisely when trust no longer prevails.”

When the project group of Underneath Which Rivers Flow entered their new, secret work-space, it was made clear to them that their workspace would become part of a public park in the near future. The question was how they – as newcomers to the city – thought about that future park. What would be needed to make it genuinely hospitable? How might the park win their trust? They were given the opportunity to design their own Secret Garden in the space behind Decoratlier. A safe, secret place as the anticipation of a future public space. Building Out Loud is how Jozef Wouters describes his practice. To design while building, without a preconceived plan and free from any determining power structures. The materials are reused and recycled to avoid money becoming a determining power factor. In a space that is big enough to allow simultaneous imagination and construction. And at the end of the process, the group is free to decide for themselves whether and to what extent they want to open their Secret Garden up to the public. Which audience will they allow in and how will they be allowed in?

For a whole year, the space behind the Deco-ratelier was a nascent inclusive enclave. Now all it needs is the real park.

(1) Designing Urban Inclusion, Metrolab Brussels, Mathieu Berger, Benoit Moritz, Louise Carlier, Marco Ranzato (2018)
(2) Transparenzgesellschaft, Byung-Chul Han, Matthes & Seitz Berlin (2012)

Sep 2019
Announcing season 2019/2020 - Decoratelier Jozef Wouters

For Decoratelier Jozef Wouters, the season starts with a new building, open projects and renewed collaborations. But first we have to say goodbye, to both our present base in Molenbeek (Brussels) and Underneath Which Rivers Flow, the production made together with Globe Aroma, which we will revive for the very last time before the building makes way for a neighbourhood park.

As from October, the Decoratelier will continue its work in another building a stone’s throw from the old one, at 17-19 Manchesterstraat. Once there, we will look for a new approach in dialogue with the building, old and new partners, and spontaneous encounters.

We are reflecting on the significance and function of the courtyard together with the WijkAntenne de Quartier (WAQ) neighbourhood group, the city-wide Zinneke project and local residents. What forms of construction and gathering might develop in this semi-public space? How can we together give shape to these square metres whose use is still undetermined?

We will continue exploring the interaction between architecture and nightlife in the main space together with, among others, the Brussels art and party collectives Leaving Living Dakota and Abstrahø. The writer Jeroen Peeters and visual designer Barry Ahmad Talib will be the first of a series of in-house artists who will be given the space to develop their own projects. In addition, The Unbuilt School of Architecture (born out of the 2019 Kunstenfestivaldesarts) keeps on providing a space for young artists to meet and build things together.

In parallel with the external projects including those in Mechelen (Museum Hof van Busleyden with ARSENAAL/LAZARUS) and Tunis (Dream City festival), Decoratelier Jozef Wouters continues to be a place for constructive exploration in ever-changing spaces, with no distinction made between sketching, making, imagining and talking.

21 Nov 2019
Supernal Movements, Asymmetrical Encounters: Meg Stuart & Jompet Kuswidananto's Celestial Sorrow

Walker Art
Thomas DeFrantz

Meg Stuart & Jompet Kuswidananto's Celestial Sorrow

We missed an opportunity to care.
The sky weeps.
Celestial Sorrow.

In April 2019, we are invited to spend time with Meg Stuart, an acclaimed artist born in the United States and currently based in Berlin and Brussels. Stuart has established a global career in experimental performance. She’s made so many dances. This one, Ceelleleleleessttitiiaiaiaall SSoorrroow, was created as a collaboration with celebrated Jogyakarta-based visual artist Jompet Kuswidananto. The work features a spectacular, immersive light installation.

I learn things about Stuart in a brief conversation with her during the weekend of Celestial Sorrow’s premiere at the Walker, which co-commissioned the piece. Among them, that she is of New Orleans. Her parents worked in theater, and she studied at New York University. She found success as an artist in Europe and has lived there for three decades. She confirms things I already knew from having seen her work over the years: she is always concerned with vulnerabilities, upsetting expectations, and inciting challenges that shift the terms of a body in motion.

She tells me a tiny bit about this work: she was concerned with spirit presence and the ghosts we all dance with. She wondered at sadness as a topic: at loss, heartbreak, and the lingerings of social and cultural traumas. What follows us as we move through the day? Is the celestial something mysterious among us all? “After all,” she winks to me, “the celestial doesn’t belong to anyone…”

On April 12, 2019, I attend the performance at the Walker’s McGuire Theater. Like the performers, I am ready to surrender myself to the unknown.

how much are we willing to not know?

The sky is lit. It radiates with a gentle softness, enveloping and shining over us at once. We enter the performance space, and the performance has already begun. We question our roles in this already-moving—what are we to do alongside the performers? A generosity burnishes the air: we will be among each other, intimately gathered along the sides of the room but able to participate in some way. We have agency as an audience; we decide when to become quiet and when to notice that the work has begun.

utterances and mumblings

The performance emerges quietly. Guitarist Ikbal Simamora Lubys creates a drone sound, strumming with a violin bow, as the dancers—Jule Flierl, Gaëtan Rusquet, and Claire Vivianne Sobottke—revolve slowly, eyes closed, as if towards meditation. They explore sensations for themselves. Well, for ourselves too, we suppose. We experience their searching as an extension of our own, towards them. The exquisite array of lights crafted by Kuswidananto dim and recover, as a swooping human cry joins into the mix. The cry saddens—is someone choking?—and spreads into words of wanting, desire, loss, and mistakes. We are engulfed, lamenting an ineffable unknown. Some of us join the performers, holding their hands, moving across the space slowly. Are we in sorrow for the heavens? Can we somehow help each other?

Surely this is a handmade performance, one that literally takes us in hand, on a journey towards some sort of healing. If we are willing to explore together, to walk across the stage with a performer, we might wind up somewhere else in the space. In this ritual there is a risk of missing the intention, of being among each other. What will we do?

the said and the unsaid

What do we say in response to our unanticipated participation in a requiem for the universe? Cries become wails as one of the performers vocalizes something like agony, a sorrow song of sound. The performers move among their own needs, writhing and gesturing while lying on their backs. One of them dons a gold lamé rug as a shroud, walking in circles through the space, chanting intentionally about sacrifice and sacred places. Slowly and inevitably, the sound—generated both vocally by the performers and by musicians Mieko Suzuki and Lubys—intensifies, as the ceiling of lights above us brightens. Sound extends forward and backwards. We are in a room together, wondering at the shamanic gestures of the performers, who chant and move to consecrate the grounds of our meeting.

One of the performers begins a solo of gestural searching and stuttering. Nervous and jittery, he moves through small roiling motions, rarely stopping or slowing. Another performer begins chanting “yes” and “no” into a microphone; the oscillation suits the dance of looking without finding. Suddenly, the room brightens and the scene changes. The trio plays a game, weaving among each other, each passing between the other two as they skip, stamp, and straggle across the stage. The music takes on a playful, rhythmic vibration, and the room feels happier, moving towards ecstasy. We feel it approaching even if we can’t discern why it comes or what had held it back before.

opening out to pleasure

The dancers spin and twirl, hold each other, and roll on the ground, possessed by the possibilities of ecstatic dance. At times the action seems mean-spirited or abusive, as when the male dancer violently drags one of the women across the room. Yet each of the three performers finds their way into this playful and necessary opening towards movement without censure. This is the mosh pit: punk dancing against dance, against performance, against controls. The guitarist joins into the fray, hopping and twirling as he plays the rhythmic motor. The mood builds in happiness and wonder, and in time fades away, sound and light dissolving to black.

discomfort and darkness

To describe this work is to experience it all over again—its imagery, its subtleties, its frequent lack of affect, its hipsterisms. The experience of this shared sorrow lingers in its inexplicability. What was it? Why was it? What did we learn from being near it? How did it change so often, and so intently, in the course of a single hour?

A burning torch appears. Fire in the space concerns us—and soothes us. Time slows quite a bit here as the flame dances in its own way, creating a visual rhythm as the room stays darkened and quiet. Stories unfold in darkness: the performers describe images to us, revealing what they see and feel, what they’ve done, their families and children. In darkness, the stories feel sad, urgent, intimate. We all lean in to this portion of the work, wondering at feelings we can’t quite see. As the lighting returns to a glow, we watch the performers undressing as they speak. They continue to describe people and events that we imagine alongside them, but watching them shed their clothes, our perceptions become sensualized and odd. We giggle, expectantly.

traumatic arrivals

Then the performers dress again, this time in unexpectedly vibrant, mismatched outfits. Two of them exit, as Claire Vivianne Sobottke remains onstage, sighing and singing full of sorrow, to a soundscape of droning metallic sounds. Sobottke sobs and complains in agony, describing her fears and hatreds, her mistrust of emotions. She crawls across the floor, telling us that she drowns and dies. Finally, she asks for help and we assist her: one of us from the audience tries to help move her across the space. But she rejects our help, taunting us to try again. We are wary the second time around. Whose sorrow is this? She continues to tease us and chastise us, to entreat us and deny us. We must see her and accompany her in her trauma, but we are not to help. In this aching solo, she offers a presence of pathology.


Gaëtan Rus uet returns dressed in a skirt and headwrap. Is this a reference to Javanese attire? He sings a looping, pointillistic melody against continuous drone sounds. Is he lost? Jule Flierl returns in a glamorous bodysuit and a Javanese facemask but refuses to perform traditional movements that might accompany the mask in other settings. She staggers and stumbles about the space, searching. Confusion and loss dominate; what are we to do now?

As if in release, Sobottke appears in a coat made of lights and pushes a small truck around the space. The trio sings a pop song in a language most of us don’t speak, but we know this to be a pop song, available to any who would want to listen to it. The musicians join in, walking and singing, each with some small flashing device. Glittering in many colors in the dimmed space, like revelers at the end of a nightlong rave, they circumscribe the space slowly and casually, spent.

coda of expansion

What is left to do? Rusquet comes with feather dusters to cleanse the space. Walking in impossible platform shoes, he takes his time cleaning the air around his body, above our heads, in the room. His ritual transforms the dusters at times, into antenna or horns. Striding and slinking calmly in the awkward, bespoke shoes, it seems he could care for us all—and the space that contains us—through his intentional and measured gestures. When he finishes, he leaves, and the glittering lights overhead dim to black.

turning away ego towards something like healing

In all, this work pushes us towards contemplations. Fragments and frequencies, ideas, and images collide, and we ride them together in dreamy sequences. We notice minor details—a smiling, a small glance, eyes closed—that move us towards a space of listening and receiving information. We publicly consider private pleasures.

This encounter is something like science  fiction. Ghosts and spirits glide among the many overhead lights. The electronics and sonification devices on the tables in front of Lubys and Suzuki create sounds in our full view, but they don’t necessarily call for our attention in the way that the environment or the other performers do. Instead, the musicians operate as something of a bridge to this other-land, this experience-place where we relate through emotion and beyond our bodies.

Witnessing the work, we wonder: What is this elegant telepathy that seems to bind sound, light, gesture, and memory across our differences? What is the wild imagination that places Javanese signals next to experimental European dance traditions and processes? What is it to land in the here and now of the present moment, and allow for an intense experience of time slippage as well?

of guilt, shame, and things that are shut down

This work feels, and begs us to feel alongside it. We are invited, entreated, and encouraged to care across our differences, in some of the ways that Stuart and Kuswidananto have in making the piece. The creators have told us that this work was commissioned and supported by government agencies: Europalia Indonesia claims the pride of place of originating the encounter between Stuart and Kuswidananto. While the two collaborators and coauthors of this work crafted a way to work among each other and their various creative processes, the work contains a colonial echo, a colonial trace, and bears its marks as an encounter of asymmetrical differences. Javanese “mysteries” dropped into Euro-American theatrical dance. But the work also reaches towards some sort of relationship, circling towards and through without concern for the arrival. Yes, we might realize, this is a collaboration among all these artists and the worlds that they inhabit; this work develops from pleasure and our encounter. The artists, and we in the audience at the Walker, do not know each other—cannot know each other well. We know different sorts of things and care differently about our meeting. But then, Meg says to me, “the fact of our asymmetrical meeting is what matters, probably most.” Where can we meet? Where can we not? It is a minefield, this place of commissioned creativity. Where do we share?

Meg and I enjoy more moments, sharing confidences and vulnerabilities. Responses to the work surprise us both. Our time together produces a tracing of light that endures deep in the sockets, among unknowable dystopias and incalculable horrors—among people not here but here. The dictatorship in Indonesia, race riots in the USA. Here and not here, always here. There are no endings to this work, to this celestial sorrowing. There are though, maybe, some slowings-down to wonder: What if we could … care? What if?

28 Sep 2018
Menschen in Regalsystemen
[ German ]
Berliner Zeitung
Michaela Schlagenwerth

Die Choreografin Meg Stuart verwandelt die Reinbeckhallen mit „Projecting [Space[“ in eine fantastische Installation

Ein paar Scheinwerfer und ein paar Lautsprecherboxen reichen. Kaum hat man das Gelände der Reinbekhallen in Schöneweide betreten, ist vorbeigelaufen an den großen Fabrikhallen, ein paar Menschen folgend, bis zur an die Spree reichenden Wiese − schon hat man den Eindruck, sich mitten in einer Installation zu befinden. Da steht Meg Stuart, die Choreografin des „Projecting [Space[“ betitelten Abends vor dem Spree-Panorama im Abendlicht. Unbeweglich, als hätte man sie dort hingepflanzt. Ein kleines silbriges Auto kommt angefahren und bleibt mitten auf der Wiese stehen. Dort laufen zwei Frauen mit einem sie umspringenden Hund …

Singende Kastanie
Ob man nun das Programmheft vorab gelesen hat (in dem von einem Nomadenstamm die Rede ist, der aus der Zukunft in unsere heutige Zeit gereist sei) oder auch nicht: Alles an dieser gut zweistündigen Performance- Installation, die draußen beginnt und dann drinnen mit dem Gang durch mehrere Hallen weitergeht, ist surreal. Die Geräusche etwa, die via Lautsprecherboxen aus einer alten, am Spreeufer wurzelnden Kastanie wehen, klingen, als würde der Baum Geräusche aus seinen tiefsten Tiefen von sich geben.

Vermutlich hat Vincent Malstaf, der für die Soundscape-Installation Verantwortliche, genau das getan: Die grummelnden, nicht gerade leisen Geräusche unter der Erdoberfläche aufgenommen und sie mit dem Rauschen der Blätter, dem Flügelschlag und Gesang der Vögel sowie dem Betrieb auf der Spree gemischt.

Außenraum Installationen, die den öffentlichen Raum zum Kunst- Raum erklären, gibt es viele. Meist funktionieren sie aber nur begrenzt. Meg Stuart gelingt ein Maximum an Verdichtung mit nur wenigen Setzungen. Da sind die Geräusche, das Licht, das Auto auf der Wiese, das mit bunten Stoffen geschmückt wird, zwei Radfahrer, die nur aufgrund ihrer etwas exzentrischen Kleidung nicht als Freizeitaktivisten erscheinen.

Die Grenzen zwischen dem gegebenen Raum mit seinem zufälligen Geschehen und den künstlerischen Aktionen sind fließend und oft nicht im ersten Moment zu identifizieren. Das dürfte die Funktionsweise des „Projecting [Space[“ sein, des sich für Projektionen öffnenden Raumes, der uns klar macht, dass unsere Wahrnehmung ja letztlich sowieso aus nichts anderem besteht als unseren (erlernten) Projektionen.

Vorsichtig, als handele es sich um ein lebendiges, unerklärliches Gerät, wird ein Gabelstapler in Betrieb genommen und ein Performer spazieren gefahren. Ein archäologischer Fund, mit dem es gilt, in Austausch zu treten und die Möglichkeiten der Kommunikation auszuloten. Nach rund zwanzig Minuten geht es in die erste Halle. Enge Gänge, dicht an dicht gereihte, hoch aufragende Regale, in denen sich die Zuschauer schichten. Anders finden nicht alle Platz. Die Tänzer agieren über ihnen und zwischen ihnen. Die Ungeordnetheit der Menschen kippt die Ordnung der geraden Regalreihen. Einzelne Tänzer beginnen Interaktionen mit den Zuschauern. Aber Entwarnung, es besteht kein Mitmachzwang! Das gesamte Vorgehen ist vorsichtig, fein. Ob Kommunikation entsteht oder nicht, das hängt vom Moment, von der Bereitschaft zum Reagieren ab. Zwischendurch sieht man nicht viel. Aber nach und nach entsteht Ruhe, Konzentration, ein diffuses Gemeinschaftsgefühl.

Wie wollen wir leben in dieser durchindustrialisierten Welt mit all den Artefakten, die uns zur Natur geworden sind. Weil es eben keine Grenzen gibt zwischen den von Menschen geschaffen Dingen und dem Rest. Damit spielt der Abend − ironisch und mit viel Lust an Absurditäten. Da wird nach der Enge in der einen Halle in der nächsten das Fliegen erprobt, einander angemalt, angepustet und tranceartig synchron durch den Raum getanzt. Kleine Plastikfetzen hängen an der Wand wie Reliquien, kostbare Funde, die es zu deuten gilt. Was sie uns erzählen können, darüber rätseln zwei Performer, während sich am anderen Ende eine viele Meter breite und hohe Leinwand entrollt und den Blick auf eine Wolkenlandschaft freigibt.

Tanzen und bilden
„Projecting [Space[“ wurde letztes Jahr im Rahmen der Ruhrtriennale in einer stillgelegten Zeche uraufgeführt. Jetzt haben Stuart und ihr Team das vom HAU koproduzierte Werk kongenial in die Reinbekhallen transferiert. Erfreulicherweise ist „Projecting [Space[“ neun Mal in Berlin zu sehen. Es wird auch im Rahmen der Berlin Art Week präsentiert. Denn es ist mit den Bühneninstallationen von Jozef Wouters eben genauso bildende Kunst wie Tanz. Aber wer will das schon trennen?

19 Jan 2018
Meg Stuart, Lion d’or à Venise, dans de nouveaux territoires
[ French ]
La Libre
Guy Duplat

La chorégraphe américaine, travaillant en Belgique depuis 1994, Meg Stuart, vient de recevoir le Lion d’or de la Biennale danse de Venise pour sa carrière. Un prix déjà attribué aux plus grands: Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Forsythe, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Jeudi soir, elle présentait justement, au Kaaitheater à Bruxelles, son nouveau spectacle "Celestial Sorrow".

Celui-ci démontrait la justesse de ce prix qui selon le jury, rend hommage à une chorégraphe qui réinvente à chaque fois, une nouvelle langue et une nouvelle méthode.

Sa dernière pièce est un projet d’Europalia Indonésie. Elle avait été mise en contact avec l’artiste indonésien Jompet Kuswidananto dont on a vu une installation au Grand-Hornu. Ensemble, ils ont travaillé à Yogyakarta autour d’un thème commun: comment le passé et ses fantômes peuvent s’inscrire dans les corps, musiques et lumières.

Pour l’Indonésien, c’est le souvenir toujours douloureux de la longue dictature Suharto renversée par les étudiants en 1998, et même le souvenir du massacre de millions de communistes en 1965-66.

Le résultat est envoûtant, très impressionnant. Les spectateurs sont assis le long des murs. Du plafond, pendent plus de 1000 ampoules formant un ciel étoilé devenant parfois une lumière très crue. Une musique obsédante et planante est interprétée life par la DJ japonaise Mieko Suzuki.

Trois danseurs, chanteurs, performeurs, créent des atmosphères fortes, parfois bizarres. D’abord une longue méditation chamanisme avec cris, bruits divers, couverture d’or, suivie d’une transe folle, rave, Sacre du printemps sous ecstasy. Ensuite, viennent le chagrin, la douceur des images de nos jeunesses, de mystérieuses figures indonésiennes, et le kitsch en lumières d’une chanson acidulée de Java.

Les sons où on retrouve plein de bruits et de respirations, les costumes de Jean-Paul Lespagnard (y compris un manteau en lampes de Noël), les lumières, sont particulièrement soignés.

Ce qu’on voit est inspiré par la situation en Indonésie. On y aime les jeux de lumières qui ruissellent sur les camions, les bruits qui se bousculent. Ce sont des manières de s’assurer qu’on est bien sorti de l’obscurité Suharto. Et le chagrin (Sorrow) des chansons tristes renvoie à l’interdiction de celles-ci sous la dictature.

S’il y a des passages plus obscurs et expérimentaux, on est souvent emporté, d’abord par le talent extraordinaire des performeuses et "vocal-acrobat" venues de Berlin (Jule Flierl et Claire Vivianne Sobottke).

Meg Stuart démontre à nouveau son talent à prendre de risques et explorer de nouveaux territoires.

24 Jan 2018
Trip à la sauce indonésienne
[ French ]
Le Vif
Estelle Spoto

Dans le cadre d'Europalia Indonesia, la chorégraphe Meg Stuart -à qui vient d'être décerné le Lion d'Or de la prochaine Biennale de Venise pour l'ensemble de sa carrière- offre un trip vers le primordial. Pas de danses traditionnelles ici, mais une performance qui saisit les sens et emmène loin.

Avec Celestial Sorrow, la chorégraphe américaine basée à Bruxelles et Berlin Meg Stuart ouvre les portes d'un monde régi par des forces autres que celles de la raison. On y entre, ou on n'y entre pas, mais plusieurs éléments aident à en franchir le seuil. Il y a tout d'abord la lumière, à travers l'installation de l'artiste indonésien Jompet Kuswidananto qui, dans le cadre d'Europalia, vient tout juste de clôturer une exposition au MAC's. Plus d'un millier d'ampoules combinées à des lustres forment une voûte céleste artificielle qui impressionne d'emblée. Combinée au light design de Jan Maertens, cette constellation offre mille variations, d'une clarté aveuglante à l'obscurité totale. Ensuite il y a le son, prégnant, dispensé depuis deux des coins de l'espace par le guitariste indonésien Ikbal Simamora Lubys (autre rencontre sous la bannière d'Europalia) et la DJ et artiste sonore japonaise Mieko Suzuki. La musique enveloppe dès le départ artistes et spectateurs à la manière de vagues de basse lancinantes pour se faire ailleurs advantage percussive et stimuler la danse voire la transe. Les costumes aussi, signés par l'intrépide créateur bruxellois Jean-Paul Lespagnard, qui ne recule devant aucun mélange de styles et aucun imprimé, aident à pénétrer dans une autre dimension. Comme dans cette séquence finale où Gaëtan Rusquet évolue perché sur des chaussures aux semelles triangulaires -pointe vers le bas, base vers le haut, sinon ce serait trop facile.

Soutenus par ce contexte hors du commun, les performers -deux filles, Jule Flierl et Claire Vivianne Sobottke complètent l'équipe- se donnent corps et âme, usant genoux et cordes vocales, à travers différents tableaux. Ils tournent comme de lentes toupies en explorant les possibilités du langage non articulé, se roulent dans une couverture qui aurait été tricotée avec des guirlandes de Noël dorées, décrivent verbalement dans le noir des images plus mentales que réelles avant de former une procession accessoirisée de gadgets lumineux ultra kitsch, avec un hypnotique manteau autoéclairant multicolore. Hétéroclite et semé d'humour, l'ensemble laisse surgir pour celui qui veut s'y perdre un monde oublié, en deçà, au-delà du quotidien. Invisible mais bien là.

19 Jan 2018
Meg Stuart, Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, tests new waters

La Libre
Guy Duplat

The American choreographer Meg Stuart, who was been working in Belgium since 1994, received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. Former illustrious winners include Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, William Forsythe and Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker. On Thursday evening, she will also present her new production, titled Celestial Sorrow, in the Kaaitheater in Brussels.

A work that aptly demonstrated why she merited this award as, in the jury’s words, the choreographer has continuously sought to redefine herself in her work, developing a new language and a new method for each creation.

Her most recent work was created for Europalia Indonesia. She was introduced to the Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto, who created an installation for Grand-Hornu. Together, they worked in Yogyakarta around a common theme: how can the past and its ghosts be expressed by bodies, music and light?

The Indonesian artist focused on the painful memory of the long Suharto dictatorship, which was overturned by the student movement in 1998, and the horrifying massacre of millions of communists in 1965–66.

The result is compelling and very impressive. The spectators are seated along the walls. More than 1,000 light bulbs hang from the ceiling, forming a starry sky, which at times casts a harsh light on the stage. The Japanese DJ Mieko Suzuki stands behind her turntable on stage, playing obsessive lounge-style music.

Three dancers, singers and performers create overwhelming and at times even bizarre ambiences. The choreography opens with a long, shamanistic meditation, with cries, various sounds, a golden cloak, followed by a mad, rave-like trance, like a rite of spring on ecstasy. Sorrow, the candour of the images of our youth, mysterious Indonesian figures and the heightened kitsch of a saccharine-sweet song from Java all follow.

The sounds formed by plenty of different noises and breathing, the costumes by Jean-Paul Lespagnard (including a cloak with fairy lights) and the lighting design are especially well done.

What you see on stage is all inspired by the situation in Indonesia. The light that flickers on the trucks, the clashing noises. These are all ways of reminding you that the dark Suharto years are really behind us. And the sorrow of the sad songs refers to the fact that this music was banned under the dictatorship.

While the choreography is dark and experimental at times, the audience is swept away on several occasions, by the extraordinary talent of the performers and the vocal acrobatics from Berlin (Jule Flierl and Claire Vivianne Sobottke).

Meg Stuart once again demonstrates her talent for taking risks and exploring new territories.

30 Jan 2018
D'huile et d'eau
[ French ]
Sylvia Botella

Libres de toute allégeance, la chorégraphe américaine Meg Stuart (Lion d’or de la Biennale de danse de Venise 2018) et l’artiste visuel indonésien Jompet Kuswidananto livrent une oeuvre hors genre: Celestial Sorrow. Ils y célèbrent la beauté du trouble et des contradictions qui s’étreignent sans se fondre l’une dans l’autre, comme deux liquides non miscibles.

C’est sans doute à partir de son expérience qu’il faut lire la dernière création Celestial Sorrow de Meg Stuart et de Jompet Kuswidananto. Mais pour cela, il faut un principe: faire confiance à la singularité de ses émotions, à leur valeur, plutôt que de les ignorer. Il suffit de regarder la scène-séquence d’ouverture pour s’en convaincre: on ressent déjà un étourdissement, un vertige, une transe dans ‘l’happening’ moins ritualisé que ritualiste. Parce que la danse s’inscrit dans un présent infini, parce qu’il y a des hétérogénéités, parce que le corps se détache sous l’effet d’une métamorphose, parce que le danseur (Jule Flierl, Gaëtan Rusquet ou Claire Vivianne Sobottke) semble surtout dansé, hanté sous ‘la voute céleste’ (installation) de Jompet Kuswidananto qui ravit autant qu’elle inquiète.

Souvent un son guttural ou un geste physique est là alors qu’il ne le devrait pas, comme une bouffée de souvenirs, de sentiments ou de traumas. La beauté incompréhensible de Celestial Sorrow nous détourne de la simple narration. Notre regard est toujours saisi par autre chose. D’où le trouble irrésolu face à ce qui voudrait tout dire au même instant, ou s’évaporerait au profit d’une multitude de petits mouvements presque imperceptibles.

Mais ce qui fascine, ce n’est pas tant le trouble lui-même que la forme de jouissance qu’il provoque, liée à un trop plein, voire à une contradiction. Et l’intelligence de Meg Stuart est d’associer cette jouissance à un différentiel de musique (Mieko Suzuki, Ikbal Simamora Lubys), à l’onirisme d’un différentiel de lumière (Jan Maertens), à une dissimulation ou une revelation soudaine d’une partie du corps grâce à un vêtement (Jean-Paul Lespagnard). Pourquoi certaines images plus que d’autres nous rendent transis ? Celles où les corps comme collés l’un à l’autre, érotisés, se défont. Celles où le performeur, les bras levés, comme relié au cosmos, ondule en proie à la transe. Il y a, qu’on le veuille ou non, une forme de beauté dans cette part obscure. C’est même un mystère non résolu jusqu’à la cécité peut-être.

Quelque chose échappe inlassablement en s’exaltant dans l’étreinte des contraires. C’est étrangement, autant l’un que l’autre: Meg Stuart et Jompet Kuswidananto, l’Indonésie et l’Occident, la noirceur et la lumière, le conscient et l’inconscient, la nature et l’art ou l’humain et le cosmos. « Un médium nous a dit que Celestial Sorrow lui faisait penser à de l’huile et de l’eau, » raconte Gaétan Rusquet. « Et que c’était très bien que les divers éléments restent disparates, qu’ils ne se mélangent pas. » Dans Celestial Sorrow, la danse est portée par une quête infinie. Elle bouleverse par un mélange de déterritorialisation foncière et scandaleuse, de transcendance aigüe des identités (aux nuances queer) et de célébration de la communauté créant une forme expérimentatrice affolante qui n’est jamais pourtant disjointe des réalités concrètes. Au détour de la chanson Hanti yang luka de Betharia Sonata, dans le détail d’une petite forme presque opératique (la parade d’un camion miniature), l’histoire de l’Indonésie rejaillit. « En Indonésie, la chanson Hanti yang luka a été interdite sous la dictature parce qu’elle était trop triste », explique Gaëtan Rusquet. « Elle traite des violences faites aux femmes. Sous la dictature, il n’y avait pas de place pour la tristesse, ni la douleur. Aujourd’hui, la reprendre dans Celestial Sorrow, c’est lui donner un espace de liberté ». Ici, les paroles de Hanti yang luka brise les dernières résistances et entraine tout le monde dans son sillage scintillant, de pure lumière, comme aspiré par un désir très naïf d’idéal.

Le magnétisme, Celestial Sorrow en donne la figure la plus poétique: dans un dernier plan, quelques gestes furtifs de l’homme-paon suffisent à balayer d’un revers ce qui a eu lieu et à réinvestir l’ordinaire avant peut-être de redevenir un fauteur de trouble. Lorsque se rallument plein feux les lumières de Celestial Sorrow, on ne peut que se dire: c’est exactement ça que je veux voir sur un plateau, une oeuvre hors genres. Celestial Sorrow de Meg Stuart et Jompet Kuswidananto, c’est l’aura du geste qui relie l’homme de façons multiples à l’univers et définitivement à lui-même.

30 Jan 2018
Of oil and water

Sylvia Botella

The independent American choreographer Meg Stuart (2018 Golden Lion of the Biennale di Venezia / Dance) and Indonesian visual artist Jompet Kuswidananto joined forces to create a work, titled Celestial Sorrow, making up their own rules as they went along. In it they celebrate the beauty of turmoil and of contradictions which meet but never mix, like two immiscible liquids.

Spectators should probably rely on their experience to interpret Celestial Sorrow, a collaboration between Meg Stuart and Jompet Kuswidananto. But to do this, you need a basic principle: you need to trust the singularity of your emotions and their value rather than ignore them. To be convinced of this principle, all the spectator must do is look at the opening scene-sequence: it is dizzying, causing the spectator to feel vertigo, a trance in a ‘happening’, that is ritualistic rather than ritualised. Because here dance is part and parcel of an infinite present, because heterogeneities exist, because the body breaks free as a result of a transformation, because the dancer (Jule Flierl, Gaëtan Rusquet or Claire Vivianne Sobottke) mainly seems to be danced, haunted as he or she is, when moving under ‘the celestial vault’ (the installation that Jompet Kuswidananto created), which is beautiful and fear-inspiring in equal measure.

Often a guttural sound or a gesture pops up where it is least expected, like memories, feelings or traumas that surge to the surface. Celestial Sorrow’s incomprehensible beauty solidly steers us away from mere narration. Our gaze is always captured by something else. Hence the unresolved turmoil the spectator experiences, when confronted with an individual who wants to express everything at the same time, or that evaporates to make way for a multitude of almost imperceptible small movements

The turmoil in itself is not fascinating but the pleasure that it provokes, linked to excessive emotions, even to a contradiction. Meg Stuart’s intelligence is apparent in the association of this pleasure with music (Mieko Suzuki, Ikbal Simamora Lubys), with dreamy light (Jan Maertens), with a sudden dissimulation or exposure of part of the body thanks to the costumes (Jean-Paul Lespagnard). So why do some images make more of an impression on us than others? Those in which the eroticised bodies seem glued to each other only to break away. Those in which the performer, arms raised as if connected with the whole of the universe, undulates in a trance. Whether you like it or not, there is something beautiful about this darkness. The mystery will remain unresolved, until blindness sets in perhaps.

Something inexorably breaks free, rising out above the meeting of these contradictions. Oddly enough it is both one and the other: Meg Stuart and Jompet Kuswidananto, Indonesia and the West, darkness and light, consciousness and the unconscious, nature and art, humanity and the universe. ‘A medium told us that Celestial Sorrow reminded him of oil and water’, says Gaëtan Rusquet. ‘And that it was a good thing that the various elements remained separate, that they were never mixed’. In Celestial Sorrow, the choreography is inspired by an endless quest. It shocks because of the combination of profound and scandalous deterritorialisation, with a heightened transcendence of identities (with queer nuances) and a community in celebration, that has created a scary form of experimentation, which, however, is never dissociated from the specific realities. The history of Indonesia is suddenly referenced, in a song called Hanti yang luka by Betharia Sonata, in the detail of a minor almost operatic form (the parade of a miniature truck). ‘In Indonesia the dictatorship banned the song Hanti yang luka because it was deemed too sad’, Gaëtan Rusquet explains. ‘It refers to the violence against women. Under the dictatorship there was no place for sadness or pain. By performing it as part of Celestial Sorrow, we have given this song a place to exist, to be free.’ Here the lyrics of Hanti yang luka break down the last resistance, dragging everyone along in its scintillating wake, in the purest of light, as if drawn in by a very naïve desire for an exalted ideal.

In Celestial Sorrow magnetism appears in its most poetic form: in the last scene, a few furtive gestures by a peacock-man makes us forget everything that happened, marking a return to order, before the confusion begins again perhaps. When the lights of Celestial Sorrow are switched on again, in all their harshness, all you can say is: this is exactly what I wanted to see on stage, a work like no other. Celestial Sorrow by Meg Stuart and Jompet Kuswidananto is all about the aura of a gesture that connects man with the universe, and finally with himself, in a multitude of ways.

May 2018
Disfiguring dance, refiguring the human

Allyson Green & André Lepecki


– Memories of Meg Stuart exchanged in correspondence between Allyson Green and André Lepecki

Allyson Green: As I write I am in Hammerfest, Norway, improvising in a festival with Latvian, Norwegian and Russian dancers. The skies completely darken here by 1:30 pm. So I am in a strange Nordic dreamlike state as I travel back in memory to 1989 when Meg Stuart and I were both working in the Randy Warshaw Dance Company. Dancers learn much about each other by moving together; an intimate conversation built of trust and shared experiences that form our homes on the road and in the studio. Our bodies become containers of memories that have settled into our bones. I close my eyes and I can still see Meg darting forward in the opening movement phrase of Randy’s “Fragile Anchor.” Meg’s dancing was (is) at once fierce and tender, determined and vulnerable. In fact “fragile” and “anchor” are apt words to describe her performance. My memories take me inside Randy’s studio on Wooster Street. I can still feel the reverberations of a quartet created with Meg, Jennifer Lacey, Susan Blankensop and me; exacting hours of recalled improvisation to acquire minutes of set material. I treasure a gift photo of a duet with José Navas, with Meg watching from behind; it keeps us three dancing in a fleeting moment captured in black and white. We were all weaving our lives together in and out of downtown studios, and trying to make ends meet. Fellow striving artists were creating magic in the lofts of Soho, long before it transformed into a high-end shopping mall. We formed our chosen family during a time that became marked by the AIDS epidemic. Too many loved ones left us far too soon. The grief gave us a determination to keep creating, to keep moving, to keep working for long hours into the night. Nothing would stop those of us left behind. Meg would soon catapult from fellow NYC dancer to a renowned European creator.

André Lepecki: In 1991 American choreographer Meg Stuart premiered her first evening-length piece at the Belgium dance Festival Klapstuk. Titled Disfigure Study, it was a quiet, dark, somber and deeply moving hour-long trio that immediately created a stark contrast to the highly theatrical and hyper physical dance that informed most of the European dance scene at the time. Indeed, Disfigure Study truly disfigured expectations of what a New York based dancer trained in the traditions of release technique and contact improvisation was supposed to present to an European audience in 1991. The piece was minimalist without being formal or abstract; profoundly affective without being theatrical or expressive; deeply technical without relying on one identifiable technique; highly visual, and yet, mostly taking place in shadows, penumbra, and darkness. Where one would expect integral bodies and fluid movement, Stuart offered a stark sense of post-AIDS melancholia, turning dancing bodies into incoherent (and yet very consistent) collections of partial body parts. Whereas the piece was directly inspired by Francis Bacon’s art, Disfigure Study did not explicitly refer to any of his paintings. Rather, it tapped into Bacon’s main aesthetic principle, what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze called Bacon’s “logic of sensation.” Disfigure Study’s disfiguration of series of cliché images of avant-garde dance at the end of the 1980s was a refiguration of what it meant to desire movement in the wake of so much death.

AG: I remember our excitement for Meg when she was given the commission to create Disfigure Study. It was remarkable in those days to get such support to spend time in the studio, and then to present in Europe, hurrah! Watching the last rehearsals, I knew she had created something special; a new and distinctive voice that spoke to how we were all recovering, adapting and moving on. She had discovered the seeds for what would blossom over the next years. I remember trying to encourage her to trust when her work was ready to be seen, but she had so many doubts at the start. The pressure was great. I recall watching as André quietly offered insightful collaborative dramaturgy that grounded and amplified Meg’s visual, physical and conceptual explorations. Meg was building a new chosen family and “Damaged Goods” seemed exactly the right words to name her fledgling company (taken from the last line of a review by Burt Supree). A few years later she would teach me one of her solos, to add into an evening work of mine entitled “Recuerdo: Passing Back through the Heart.” There was a specificity of form in her direction that was precise, emotional, and intimate. Rooted on the spot, the repetition of percussive movement, “oh yeah huh,” right shoulder jutting forward, still reverberates in my core.

AL: Since then, Meg Stuart’s work has metamorphosed into all sorts of directions: large improvisational events gathering visual artists, composers, philosophers, dancers (Crash Landing [1996-9], or Auf den Tisch! [2004-11], to mention two examples); intimate interactive installations (for instance, Intimate Strangers [2008-11]); large group pieces (VIOLET [2011], or the extraordinary Built to Last [2012]); publications (Stuart’s Are we here yet?, [2010]); video installations (Study of a Portrait [2016]); and series of solo works performed by Stuart herself (most recently, Hunter [2014]) – these are just a very small fraction of all the titles comprising Stuart’s impressive and multifaceted body of work. In each of these manifestations of Stuart’s unique artistic impetus, we can find the poetic force of sensation at work. We can sense the logic of corporeal affects being made to operate by this indefatigable choreographer/dancer/performer in singular and powerful ways in order to deliver to her audience not only new images, but new imaginations: of the flesh, of modes of existing, of ways of moving, of entangling, of touching, of choreographing. Affects-as-imaginations exuding from the trembling body, or erupting through the animal quality of a very human howl, are what allow Stuart to consistently and logically move her dance and dancers across the most disparate disciplines, spaces, bodies, in delirious images and through lysergic sounds. Stuart’s works are events aimed at attacking (sometimes rather unceremoniously), and at redressing (sometimes quite touchingly), her audience’s affective field.

AG: From then our journeys led us into different directions that would cross from time to time. We would see each other in Europe, in New York, in class, in performance, in improvisations, and I loved to see her explorations in both big productions and in intimate settings. Each of us would grow into roles as creators, teachers, leaders, curators, and writers, and still we are always asking questions and pushing through doubts. I was always frustrated that I never got to see enough of Meg’s company in New York. I have continued to find her work to be profoundly moving, with haunting visual, sonic and physical images that linger in memory long after viewing. Her book Are we here yet? has become a bible of choreographic methods loved by multidisciplinary artists in many countries.

AL: Choreographically, Stuart approaches the dancer’s body (including her own) as an impermanent collection of independent, autonomous, distorted entities, as if each limb, each body part, was moved by a desire of its own. Compositionally, her pieces gain consistency by the ways Stuart meticulously saturates the scenic space with highly affective forces that she draws from her dancers-collaborators. Dramaturgically, every scene links to the next by relentlessly affirming the constitutive ambiguity inherent to every single situation in our lives. Thus the haunting effects in Stuart’s works. They are unparalleled in contemporary choreography, simultaneously requiring from the audience a capacity to attend to the most poetic micro-details as well as to endure the most violent spasms in a dancer’s moves. If there is any violence, it is always under the project of highlighting a deeply touching understanding of the ultimate fragility of living.

AG: I am grateful that we have improvised our way back to crossing again in New York, to the NYU Skirball Theater just blocks from that studio on Wooster Street. My path led me to become the dean of the Tisch School of the Arts where as a student Meg first began to choreograph so many years ago. And André offers his eloquent words once again, now in his role as distinguished author, curator and Chair of Performance Studies at Tisch. Who would have imagined that in those early days? I wait in anticipation to see Meg’s work. Passing back through the heart, our next memories will refigure my bones.

Co-written by Allyson Green and André Lepecki in travel between November 6th and 9th, 2017 in NYC, Hammerfest, Norway and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Published in the context of Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods their performance of UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP at NYU Skirball New York.

Allyson Green is the Dean of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. André Lepecki, Ph.D., is the Chair of Tisch’s Department of Performance Studies.

08 May 2018
In Performance: Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods, UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP

Contemporary Performance
Philip Gates

When a disgruntled spectator walked out of the theater forty-five minutes into Saturday night’s performance, he took the time before exiting to announce to the room “how embarrassing and disgusting” the work was. The two performers onstage instantly stopped their activity (a playful, inquisitive exploration of each other’s nude bodies) and sprang into defensive crouches, darting glances towards the voice at the back of the house, like startled animals ready to fight. Waves of warm laughter swept through the audience, not only in appreciation of the performers’ quick response, but because their reaction, slyly exaggerated as it was, was shared by many of us. Until that moment, embarrassment and disgust had been refreshingly absent from the space. To conjure these states by speaking the words aloud was not just an ill-timed critique; it felt like an affront, an attempted reimposition of conditions and contexts the performance had worked carefully (and joyfully) to transcend. In a program note, choreographer Meg Stuart discusses the idea of borders, both physical and social. “Our social relationships are built on protocol, fear even,” she writes. “We have a lot of limitations.” Evidently so.

In UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP, Stuart, an American whose work is rarely seen in the U.S., pushes her performers past those limitations. An opening sequence drawing on Stuart’s experience with contact improvisation quickly progresses into even more intimate territory—well beyond the everyday boundaries that keep us at a safe social distance—as the performers map the contours and crevices of one another’s bodies with hands, fingers, mouths, and noses. These explorations are often tinged with the erotic, but explicitly sexual gratification is not on offer; the intention and context are absent. The performers simply accept pleasure when it arrives as a natural consequence of any of their varied modes of touch, as they also accept pain, awkwardness, and discomfort—all of which are entirely different from embarrassment. Doris Dziersk’s purple-carpeted set, part swanky cabaret and part rec room, creates a space that is almost but not quite familiar, a territory with no known rules that allows anything to unfold within its bounds.

Though Skirball’s proscenium initially separates us, this territory expands to include the spectators, as the performers draw us into their restless interpersonal experimentation. In lieu of an intermission, the performers make their way into the house, asking questions (“Does anyone have rage?”), offering up objects for tactile encounters (I ended up with a lump of clay, clay which shortly prior had encased the head of the performer who handed it out), and calling out several special guests in the audience. Later, our nostrils are filled with the smoke and sweet scent of incense, and a volunteer is brought up onstage to participate in a classic disappearing act, complete with mirrored compartment. These and other references to magic and mysticism again approach the question of boundaries: between reality and illusion, inside and outside, between what we thought possible and what we see happening in front of us.

Near the end of the two-and-a-half-hour piece, the house lights go up and the company faces the audience as performer Claire Vivianne Sobottke presents us with a series of proposals. Is there anyone in the house, she asks, who has the time to walk her to her hotel after the performance? Come up to her room and eat chips? Is there anyone who wants to take the company out clubbing til morning? As she elaborates various scenarios, listing all the things “we” would do together, alternative outcomes begin to take shape in our imaginations, directions the evening could take that we hadn’t conceived of. No one volunteers, however, and Sobottke’s proposals grow ever more manic, as a driving rhythm (courtesy of a trio of onstage musicians who occasionally double as dancers) gradually fills the space. “Can somebody put a spell on us so we don’t feel anything anymore?” she finally calls out. In this cry I hear not a craving for emotional anesthesia, but a wild desire to exist beyond, to inhabit a state outside of our ordinary modes of living and feeling. In staging this desire, Stuart enlists her collaborators and her audience in casting her own spell. A spell for the banishment of embarrassment and disgust; a spell for new forms of relation, calling forth possibilities for connection, support, and release.

26 May 2018
UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP: jeux interdits
[ French ]
Le Devoir
Mélanie Carpentier

Qui connaît les oeuvres de Meg Stuart sait s’attendre à une matière riche, dense et touffue. Until Our Hearts Stop ne déroge pas à la règle. Quitte à nous désorienter, à mettre nos perceptions sans dessus-dessous et, oui, à nous retourner le cerveau. N’est-ce pas là comment procède un acte de magie ? Mais au lieu d’opter pour la tangente plutôt facile de l’illusion scénique, c’est à travers une quête de l’ivresse et de l’extase que nous guident les neufs individus en scène, danseurs-performeurs comme musiciens, s’interchangeant leurs rôles à l’occasion et bravant certains tabous et les conventions du spectacle.

La scène a des allures de studio au milieu duquel un grand quadrilatère en linoleum luisant est collé sur une moquette violette. Les couleurs et un rideau en velours suspendu au plafond rappellent d’emblée l’ambiance traditionnelle des shows d’illusionnistes. Les interprètes, assis au pied d’un escalier en bois en fond de scène, semblent manigancer ce qui est à venir. Top départ. Ils prennent position dedans et en-dehors de la surface miroitante, s’imbriquant les uns aux autres, venant prendre appui sur un flan, un dos, une poitrine pour se tenir debout, se coucher ou s’asseoir. Peu à peu, se forment des agrégats et pyramides humaines. Solides d’abord, puis de plus en plus chancelantes quand chacun s’empresse vigoureusement d’escalader la pyramide. On assiste à une sorte de partie de twister aérien ; une image accentuée par leurs chandails colorés.

Des jeux enfantins aux règles insondables s’enchaînent sous nos yeux, sous forme de luttes acharnées au sol, jusqu’à mettre ses pieds sur les lèvres buccales comme vaginales de l’autre ; avec ou sans vêtement — parfois à moitié défroqués – des chahutages où plaisir et violence se mêlent et où la tendresse voudrait absoudre la cruauté. La horde se sniffe des pieds à la tête jusqu’au derrière – il fallait oser ! Et ça se claque énergiquement les fesses. Ça se gifle la peau jusqu’à en devenir rouge. Ça se pince les mamelons et se tapotte les poils du vagin – cela sans jamais tomber dans la pornographie. Ça joue le jeu de la surenchère et — farces potaches et étranges petites lubies grotesques obligent — ce n’est pas sans déclencher à la fois l’hilarité et le malaise. La raison prend le bord face à ce qui nous paraît, a priori, sans queue ni tête. Une première désorientation s’opère, brillamment amenée, dans une section qui n’est pas sans rappeler 7 Pleasures de Mette Ingvartsen vu au FTA l’année dernière. L’orgie olfactive en bonus.

Balayer l’enchantement
Sitôt un jeu s’installe et est mené jusqu’au bout, il se trouve vite balayé. Entre les séquences chorégraphiées — sorte de rites, de séances de spiritisme et de numéros de magie à la sauce kitsch -, on tremble pour un homme à tête d’argile percutant sourdement le sol ; le micro est volé et les touches du piano piétinées par deux punkettes nues en furie ; un groupe de filles en brassière pigées dans le public hurlent dans une coulisse ; de l’argile est balancée entre les mains des spectateurs ; on chante « bonne fête » tous en coeur à un inconnu… Des pépites de performance qui ne peuvent être trop préméditées et n’avoir lieu qu’en cet instant présent jubilatoire. Les conventions du spectacle explosent, mais là rien de fort surprenant pour un public averti comme celui du FTA. Bien qu’elle ne fasse pas dans la dentelle, Stuart prend cependant des pincettes – fort heureusement – le consentement étant la clé dans l’approche de chaque personne sollicitée.

L’humour noir porté par l’acteur Kristof Van Boven dans un monologue, pied de nez à l’horizon d’attente, parvient à en dérider certains, allant charrier les « egocentric assholes » — espèces surtout rencontrés durant les festivals, dit-il — et remontant avec une subtile ironie à l’historique de l’Usine C.

L’enchantement à tout prix. Voilà ce à quoi renoncent au final Stuart et ses performeurs, à travers une série de fins possibles qui étendent la sauce, jusqu’à adopter la voie d’une fumisterie assumée à travers des caricatures de numéro de magie tombant volontairement à plat. En contrepartie, les états de grâce ne sont qu’effleurés du doigt. Car si l’on se laisse gagner par l’ivresse à regarder les performeurs et musiciens se déchaîner ainsi, dans leur quête d’absolu — jalousant parfois cette liberté — l’extase quant à elle ne reste qu’une promesse suspendue dans son envol. Ce qui vient de se dérouler sous nos regards médusés — parfois nous laissant hilares, perplexes, provoqués, choqués, perturbés et rêveurs — n’en reste pas moins un terreau fertile à la réflexion, seulement possible une fois le tout bien décantée.

28 May 2018
Entrevue avec Meg Stuart sur UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP
[ French ]
Philippine Vallette

De Montréal à Berlin, j’ai eu la chance de m’entretenir avec la chorégraphe américaine Meg Stuart au sujet de son spectacle Until our hearts stop, qu’elle présentera lors de cette édition 2018 du Festival TransAmériques. La période est très active pour sa compagnie Damaged Goods, qui revient de tournée à New York, présente actuellement Hunter en Allemagne et s’apprête à rejoindre le Québec avant de repartir peu de temps plus tard pour la Belgique. Meg Stuart a pris mon appel en pleine répétition et répondu à mes questions avec une voix douce et souriante. Elle sait communiquer le plaisir que ses interprètes et elle-même ont pris à créer cette dernière œuvre entre le théâtre et la danse, inspirée de magie, et accompagnée de musique jouée en direct. Until our hearts stop sera présenté pour deux dates seulement, les 25 et 26 mai à l’Usine C. Une rencontre avec les artistes est prévue à la suite de la première représentation.

Comment décririez-vous Until our hearts stop à quelqu’un qui ne l’a pas vu? À quoi faut-il s’attendre ?

C’est un spectacle plein de générosité, viscéral et très physique. Il inclut à la fois les éléments de la danse et du théâtre ; il n’a rien de froid ou d’abstrait. Il commence de façon assez minimaliste, prend du temps à démarrer mais une fois que vous entrez dedans, vous vous sentirez comme dans un hammam ! J’exagère, mais c’est quelque chose comme ça.

Cette semaine vous présentez votre solo Hunter à Berlin. Vous semblez avoir pris une direction très différente avec Until our hearts stop, avec six interprètes et trois musiciens sur scène.

Non ! C’est différent en terme d’échelle seulement. Il y du texte dans les deux spectacles… je dirais qu’ils sont liés, mais bien sûr il y a les énergies du groupe, des questions de dynamique de groupe. On s’adresse aussi directement au public. Mais il y a une certaine chaleur, des rêves, c’est une usine à rêves en un sens. Il y a des illusions, des souhaits, des désirs. C’est difficile à décrire ! C’est très physique, et ça parle aussi de l’absence, de ce qui manque dans nos vies, et ces moments où elles nous entraînent dans un scénario de magie, d’illusions. Cela parle plus de communauté, comment nous partageons nos ressources, ce que nous faisons les uns pour les autres, jusqu’où nous irions pour l’autre, comment nous nous rencontrons.

Pouvez-vous nous expliquer le choix du titre ?

Au cours de la performance, on se sent parfois comme dans un concert. Until our hearts stop ressemble à un titre de chanson. Le spectacle parle aussi un peu d’obsessions, et dans une situation de désir, de moments où l’on perd complètement ses limites pour quelqu’un, où on lui fait une confiance aveugle au point d’être prêt à tout lui donner. C’est un peu ce moment. On dit parfois que l’on ferait n’importe quoi pour quelqu’un dans une situation, « jusqu’à ce que nos cœurs s’arrêtent de battre ». Donc cela évoque un peu cet instant rare où l’on n’a pas de limites, où l’on est engagé dans quelque chose à 100%. Je pense que cela parle d’amour en un sens, sans naïveté. Il s’agit de laisser les gens être qui ils sont, de toutes les façons possibles, « jusqu’à ce que nos cœurs s’arrêtent de battre ». On ne peut pas vraiment prévoir le changement, les directions que les choses prennent, et on ne décide pas non plus à quel moment nos cœurs s’arrêtent.

L’improvisation semble prendre une part importante dans votre travail. Quel rôle joue-t-elle dans Until our hearts stop ?

Il y a un long monologue improvisé, il [Kristof Van Boven] a un script mais il se sert principalement de la température de la salle et de son ressenti du public à ce moment-là. Nous avons surtout pensé l’improvisation dans un processus de création expérientiel: nous avons observé comment nos actions nous influençaient mutuellement, et de là est née une forme d’improvisation. Il ne s’agit donc pas d’une série de règles dans le temps mais plutôt d’une série de tâches ou d’actions. Mais le spectacle est devenu plus établi avec le temps bien sûr, et je dirais qu’il est improvisé plutôt dans sa réalisation, en dehors peut-être de ce moment avec Kristof.

Créez-vous principalement seule, ou s’agit-il d’un travail plus collaboratif avec l’ensemble de la compagnie ?

C’est moi qui l’initie, je choisis les personnes qui travailleront dessus, les sujets… J’arrive avec du matériel, quelques images en tête, des mouvements que je veux essayer. Par la suite je laisse chaque personne donner ce qu’elle peut, à partir de son vécu, de ses intérêts, et en dialogue avec le groupe. Peu à peu je prends note de choses qui m’intéressent. Ensuite nous construisons, pas à pas, et je donne une structure à l’ensemble. Mais ils donnent beaucoup, ils offrent du matériel, des idées. C’est un voyage que nous faisons ensemble. Je travaille aussi avec un dramaturge qui me donne des retours, et les gens qui m’entourent commentent et contribuent au processus aussi, si je manque de distance. Donc on fait ça ensemble, mais c’est moi qui prends les décisions finales sur le timing, la structure, le contenu, etc.

Pourquoi avez-vous décidé d’explorer le thème de la magie ?

Il y a quelque chose avec cet émerveillement des enfants qui m’intéresse… Je pense que c’est un moyen en quelque sorte de faire face à l’absence ou à la mort, ou à la fin des choses. Mais d’une façon assez tordue, par exemple lorsque l’on fait disparaître des personnes : on est impressionné, mais en même temps on réalise que ce n’est qu’une technique, et les personnes réapparaissent. Il est encore une fois question de crédulité, qui passe par la confiance. Je m’intéressais au mélange bizarre entre magie spectaculaire à la David Blaine (c’est un genre étonnant !) et celle plus ésotérique d’Aleister Crowley, qui part d’intentions, de matériaux et d’objets et qui espère que quelque chose se produise. Je trouvais qu’il y avait là un dialogue intéressant. Je pense qu’on retrouve un peu des deux dans le spectacle. Je me dis aussi que notre réalité est fondée sur ce en quoi nous croyons, et si nous déconstruisons nos croyances alors peut-être que nous découvrirons une autre réalité, mais en fait rien ne change. Et je pense que nous avons besoin de magie pour faire face à beaucoup d’autres choses qui ne fonctionnent pas comme les disputes, les cris… D’autres questions se posent aussi : sommes-nous sous l’emprise d’un charme, quels charmes voulons-nous laisser nous influencer… Quand nous disons qu’il y a de la magie dans l’air, qu’est-ce que cela signifie ? De quoi parlons-nous ? J’avais aussi envie de simplement passer du temps avec mes danseurs sur ces questions. Et puis je pense que nous avons besoin de plus de mystère dans nos vies.

Les interprètes de Until our hearts stop interagissent avec le public. Que diriez-vous que cela apporte en termes de rapport au spectateur?

Je pense que jusque là, vous pouvez avoir l’impression d’assister à des interactions privées entre les interprètes. Mais lorsque ce moment arrive, vous êtes pris en compte, reconnus et c’est simplement une agréable surprise. Cela apporte une pause sans qu’il y ait d’entracte. Les artistes sont extrêmement bienveillants, ils n’imposent à personne une situation improvisée et inconfortable. C’est un exemple de rencontre entre des personnes qui ne se connaissent pas, et au lieu de dire « Ne me dérangez pas », on dit « Que puis-je faire pour vous ? », « Comment puis-je vous aider ? ». Cet échange repose sur beaucoup de confiance et d’ouverture. Notre idée est de submerger le public de gentillesse. Et je pense que c’est subtil, parce que l’on ne s’en rend pas compte sur le moment, mais cela fait son effet plus tard. Cela nous fait réfléchir à la façon dont nous rencontrons des gens que nous ne connaissons pas, quelles sont nos attentes. C’est une invitation pour le public, à se sentir détendu, inclus, connecté aux artistes et aux autres spectateurs, plutôt qu’isolé, concentré sur sa vie privée. C’est comme si nous étions unis, dans cette salle tous ensemble. Nous partageons ce moment ensemble.

Est-ce qu’il y a une réaction que vous espérez inspirer chez votre public ?

Ils peuvent se demander à quel point ils sont ouverts, et généreux, comment ils aiment qu’on les touche, ce qui les émeut. Le spectacle pourrait leur donner envie d’être plus proches les uns des autres. Il peut inspirer plusieurs réactions, les gens peuvent également en sortir mélancoliques. Je serai satisfaite si cela leur inspire quelque chose!

Le FTA cherche à promouvoir des œuvres d’avant-garde. Qu’est-ce que ça signifie pour vous, est-ce important pour vous ?

Ce qui est avant-gardiste dépend intrinsèquement de l’ère culturelle dans laquelle on se trouve; il s’agit de résister à la norme. Ce qui me plaît, c’est peut-être les créations qui vont chercher un public plus large, ou qui surprennent le spectateur en dépassant ses attentes. Pour ma part, j’aime voir de nouveaux travaux, de nouvelles approches.

Avez-vous prévu de voir d’autres spectacles du FTA pendant votre séjour à Montréal ?

Malheureusement, je ne pourrai finalement pas assister au festival. Nous revenons juste de New York, je travaille aussi sur d’autres choses, et ça fait vraiment trop pour moi. C’est une triste nouvelle! Mais je compte sur mes danseurs pour m’en parler à leur retour.

02 Jun 2018
Comment peut-on survivre au chaos?
[ French ]
La Libre
Guy Duplat

A la fin du mois, la Biennale de danse de Venise remettra à Meg Stuart un Lion d’or pour l’ensemble de sa carrière, un prix déjà attribué aux plus grands: Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Forsythe, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. La chorégraphe américaine travaille essentiellement en Belgique depuis 1994.

Ce week-end, elle reprenait au Kaaitheater, à Bruxelles,« Blessed », créé il y a dix ans et déjà joué cent fois à travers le monde. Un solo d’une grande force et d’une actualité urgente.

Il est interprété depuis le début par le danseur portugais Francisco Camacho dans un décor sonore de Hahn Rowe.

Meg Stuart elle-même juge que son spectacle a bien tenu le coup, mais que c’est le monde qui, lui, a mal vieilli. Et on partage volontiers son avis.

Sur scène, un décor de cartons symbolise une plage au Brésil avec un palmier, une cabane, un cygne géant. Un homme vêtu de blanc avec des tongs aux pieds, marche de manière saccadée, comme le faune de Nijinsky. Puis arrive le personnage principal: la pluie.

Elle tombe de partout sans arrêt pendant plus d’une heure. Un déluge. Meg Stuart a créé ce spectacle en 2007 sous le choc de l’ouragan Katrina qui dévasta la Nouvelle-Orléans, la ville où elle est née il y a 53 ans.

Dans ce déluge, le décor s’effondre peu à peu pour devenir un amoncellement de cartons trempés. L’homme est vite décharné, habillé d’un plastique, cherchant un abri sous de fragiles échafaudages de déchets ou tentant de bricoler un radeau pour échapper aux flots.

Parc Maximilien
Comme souvent chez Meg Stuart, le décor est impressionnant (même ici dans sa simplicité) et elle étudie comment le corps résiste à l’adversité. Rampant, se contorsionnant, cherchant à survivre, Francisco Camacho incarne les victimes de Katrina, mais aussi ceux des favélas du Brésil, des catastrophes climatiques à venir, voire les sans abris du parc Maximilien sous l'orage. Il est la condition humaine.

Dans sa folie, il voit la société qui vient le « divertir », aveugle à ses drames. Une danseuse brésilienne vient faire son show au milieu des décombres, « The show must go on », la société du spectacle continue. Le corps trempé et décharné de Camacho devient une statue sur laquelle on place des vêtements de touristes consommateurs ou il prend des gestes de prêcheur sectaire.

Comment peut-on survivre au chaos, comment le corps peut-il le supporter encore ? Que penser d’un univers où le marché de la consommation et du divertissement comme celui des sectes religieuses sont à l’affut pour abuser des malheurs des hommes? La force de Meg Stuart est de s’emparer de ces thèmes forts tout en parvenant à se réinventer sans cesse.

20 Jun 2018
Instagram avant la lettre
[ Dutch ]
De Morgen
Pieter T'Jonck

Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods liep ver vooruit op de wereld van vandaag met haar surveillancecamera’s, selfies en fake news. Highway 101 is een stuk dat rond de argeloze kijker een web spint van onbetrouwbare, instabiele en hyperintieme beelden.

De impact van Highway 101 kun je afmeten: in 2000 wijdde het theatertijdschrift Etcetera er vier lange artikels aan. Nooit eerder (of later) gaf het een werk zoveel aandacht. Ook de wereld van de beeldende kunst toonde veel belangstelling. In 2001 wijdde A Prior magazine een nummer aan Stuart en Highway 101 in het bijzonder. De lijst van internationale publicaties erover is quasi eindeloos.

Het was alsof iedereen op dit stuk had zitten wachten nadat een jaar eerder Postdramatisches Theater van de Duitse theaterwetenschapper Hans-Thies Lehmann was verschenen. Dat was wereldwijd een instant classic, omdat Lehmann beter dan wie ook de vinger legde op de verschuivingen die zich aftekenden in het theater. Lehmann bewees aan de hand van vele voorbeelden dat tekst er niet langer een central plaats bekleedde. Vandaar postdramatisch: na het drama.

Decor, belichting, muziek, en zeker de lichamen van performers droegen in dat theater volgens hem minstens evenveel bij aan de betekenis van een stuk. Lehmann benadrukte ook de potentie van nieuwe media. Hij concludeerde dat de auteur of de regisseur in die situatie niet langer meester is van de betekenis van het stuk. De kijker doet er het zijne mee.

Het boek bleef in Vlaanderen niet onopgemerkt, want Lehmann vond veel inspiratie bij kunstenaars als De Keersmaeker, Fabre of Lauwers. Daarmee plaatste hij Vlaanderen aan de kop van de theaterontwikkeling. Hij zag echter ook marge voor verdere vernieuwing. Experimenten met de verhouding tussen spelers en kijkers konden doortastender. Video mocht wat meer zijn dan een extra beeldje, gezien de groeiende impact van digitale media op onze manier van samenleven.

Veel kunstenaars zaten daar ook op te broeden, maar Highway 101 deed het allemaal in een klap en radicaal. De voorstellingen speelden op locatie of – zoals in de Brusselse Kaaitheaterstudio’s – niet in de zaal, maar doorheen het hele gebouw. Daardoor liepen performers en toeschouwers vaak door elkaar, of werden de performers gidsen als men van de ene plek naar de andere trok. Luc Maes, architect van de Kaaistudio’s, is nog steeds opgetogen over hoe Stuart alle theatrale mogelijk - heden, die hij in het gebouw had gestopt, ontdekte en gebruikte.

Die nabijheid gaf echter ook een rare, ongemakkelijke intimiteit, temeer omdat de acties van de performers doorgaans nogal gewoontjes waren. Ze werden pas bijzonder – ja, bizar – door de vreemde invalshoek van waaruit je ze, in het echt of op scherm, zag of doordat dingen uit de hand liepen. Video was daarnaast alomtegenwoordig, deels als CCTVof cameratoezicht. Op schermen zagen de toeschouwers niet enkel de performers, maar ook zichzelf, meestal met kleine of grote verschuivingen in tijd. Stuart stuurde zo herinneringen van toeschouwers in de war.

Westkust van de VS
Technisch was het een huzarenstukje, herinnert gezelschapsleider John Zwaenepoel zich. “CCTV was toen niet zo evident als nu. We vroegen het uiterste van onze techniekers.” Ook de performers gaven alles. Heine Avdal herinnert zich dat hij met het stuk ging slapen en weer opstond. “Het was geen negen-tot-vijf job. We stelden het stuk op zes verschillende locaties telkens weer samen. In Kaaitheater en in Wenen hadden we voldoende tijd, maar in het Centre Pompidou in Parijs was de tijdsdruk enorm. Ik leerde er hoe je op gebouwen kunt inspelen en hoe je beelden kunt meenemen van de ene locatie naar de andere, als een archief.”

Nochtans zag Stuart het aanvankelijk niet zo groot. “Highway 101 is de snelweg die van noord naar zuid langs de westkust van de VS loopt. Na de scheiding van mijn ouders pendelde ik tussen hen. De overdracht gebeurde langs die snelweg.

Ze dropten me in dat niemandsland. Daardoor kreeg die snelweg voor mij de betekenis van een tocht met een andere werkelijkheid bij elke nieuwe afslag.”

Dat idee verruimde Stuart gaandeweg: “Volgens mij leven we als vanzelf in talloze ruimtes. Net zo experimenteren we met tijd. Mensen willen hun lichamelijke en mentale toestand in de toekomst voorbereiden. We zetten dingen naar onze hand maar plooien ons ook vlot naar diverse media. We handelen als kameleons naar de context, gedreven door het verlangen onszelf te overschrijden. Een verlangen naar plooibaarheid en oneindigheid, naar een open einde, het begin van een lang, wijdvertakt parcours.”

Als een kameleon
Dat kameleontische was precies de redden waarom Highway 101 zo onthutsend was: in één scène namen performers soms talloze gedaanten tegelijk aan. Ze mankeerden vastigheid, ze werden geen personage. Het bleven grillige, onsamenhangende portretten. Maar doordat ze zo dicht bij toeschouwers kwamen, en samen met hen in filmbeelden opdoken, besmetten ze de toeschouwers met die instabiliteit.

Rudi Laermans schreef er in 2000 in Etcetera (en vijftien jaar later in de monumentale studie Moving Together/ Theorizing and Making Contemporary Dance) pakkende bladzijden over. Hij komt er, langs een andere weg, tot de conclusie dat het lichaam van de performer als een kameleon oneindig veel beelden kan uitdrukken. Alleen spreekt hij niet van een kameleon, maar van ‘het lichaam als een medium dat zelf onzichtbaar blijft’.

Hij suggereert zo dat het lichaam een canvas is voor beelden die zowel performers als kijkers erop projecteren. Laermans wijst er meteen op hoe dat lichaam als medium mee gestuurd wordt door andere media als klank, licht of video beeld. Highway 101 ontrafelt volgens hem hoe dat in zijn werk gaat. Met een beetje verbeelding zie je zo hoe Highway 101 een voorafbeelding is van de schone schijn van Facebook en Instagram – thema’s die Stuart in later werk als Alibi en Visitors Only verder zou uitspitten.

Highway 101 speelde hooguit vijftig keer, op zes locaties, telkens voor zo’n honderd man. Maar fans, zoals Steven De Belder (toen theaterwetenschapper, nu stafmedewerker bij Parts), doorkruisten Europa om het werk op de zes locaties te zien. Hij raakte er al na twee edities door gebeten: “Hoe mensen verschijnen en verdwijnen in dat stuk is spookachtig”, herinnert hij zich. Zijn getuigenis is uniek, want dit werk was, uit de aard van de zaak, niet te verfilmen. Het is zelf een spook van de theatergeschiedenis geworden. Maar ook een mijlpaal, ook al omdat talloze andere theatermakers er inspiratie uit haalden.

01 Aug 2018
Tanz der intergalaktischen Krieger
[ German ]
Die Presse
Isabella Wallnöfer​

Die in Venedig ausgezeichnete Choreografin Meg Stuart zeigt in „Solos and duets“ fünf Ausschnitte aus ihrer Arbeit – ein faszinierend abwechslungsreiches Vergnügen.

Eine gute Viertelstunde lang verharren Vânia Rovisco und Márcio Kerber Canabarro reglos in ihrer Anfangspose, während das Publikum mit der beim ImPulsTanz üblichen Verspätung im Odeon-Theater seine Plätze einnimmt. Der Anblick ist quälend: Es ist drückend schwül im Raum – und die beiden tragen Motorradhelme auf dem Kopf. Doch statt zum Kollaps kommt es kurz darauf zu einem pyrotechnisch inszenierten Einstieg, der die Initialzündung für diesen wandlungsreichen Abend ist: Die Stelzen, die Kerber an den Füßen montiert hat, erinnern an überdimensionale Streichhölzer – und brennen kurz darauf zischend an den Enden, bevor die beiden ihr grandioses Duett starten. „Inflamável“ – brennbar – ist nicht nur die Lunte, sondern jede Begegnung der beiden, die einander wie intergalaktische Krieger in einer unwirtlichen Landschaft umkreisen, bereit zu kämpfen oder zu helfen. Er erhöht, aber auch an der Bewegung gehindert durch die Beinverlängerungen. Sie in klobigen Motorradstiefeln und schwarzem Tutu. Die Kostüme stammen vom belgischen Modedesigner Jean-Paul Lespagnard – und passen perfekt in das bizarre Szenario, in dem jeder auf groteske Weise versucht, die Oberhand zu gewinnen. Ein Kampf der Gladiatoren und Geschlechter, der unentschieden endet: Beide sind gleich stark – und gleich verletzlich.

Es ist nicht die einzige emanzipatorische Pose, die Meg Stuart den Zuschauern auf dem Silbertablett dieses glänzenden Abends serviert: Fünf Duette und Solos hat sie zusammengestellt, um den Zuschauern einen Überblick über ihr vielfältiges Werk zu geben, für das sie heuer bei der Tanzbiennale in Venedig mit dem Goldenen Löwen ausgezeichnet wurde. Drei kurze Solos folgen dem Auftakt: Claire Vivianne Sobottke wirkt in „oh yeah huh“ (einem Ausschnitt aus „No One is Watching“ von 1995) wie eine Frau auf der Suche nach Halt und Intimität; Maria Scaroni erforscht in „Dust“ (aus „Built to Last“; 2012) einfallsreich und selbstsicher ihr Bewegungsspektrum; und Márcio Kerber Canabarro wird in „Signs of Affection“ (2010) von den Beats eines Schlagzeugs (gespielt von Brendan Dougherty) in einen tranceartigen Schütteltanz versetzt. Hier zeigen die Tänzerinnen und Tänzer von „Damaged Goods“ die ganze Bandbreite der fruchtbaren Arbeit mit Meg Stuart.

Wie ein Äffchen an der Odeon-Säule
Aber das Beste kommt zum Schluss: „Until our Hearts Stop“. In diesem grandiosen Finale steigen Scaroni und Sobottke in den Ring. Nackt. Dann geht's richtig zur Sache: Wie zwei Catcherinnen gehen sie aufeinander los, schlagen und treten, zerren an den Haaren und Brüsten – daraus entwickelt sich ein Foppen und Schäkern, ein lustvolles Tätscheln, Räkeln und Kuscheln. Die beiden haben ihren Spaß an der ungenierten Zurschaustellung ihrer Weiblichkeit. In lächerlichen Pin-up-Posen führen sie Sexismus und Voyeurismus vor. Einmal erklimmt Scaroni wie ein Äffchen eine der imposanten Odeon-Säulen, um quietschend daran herunterzurutschen. Es ist ein kluges und vergnügliches Treiben – und Höhepunkt eines trotz der Hitze erfrischend kurzweiligen Abends.

Mar 2018
Scope for freedom

Astrid Kaminski

Meg Stuart recently received the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in the dance category at the Venice Biennale. The award is well deserved as she has been influencing contemporary dance since the 1990s with her visually powerful, physically captivating and sensually electrifying work. Although internationally successful, she has put down strong local roots. Her company Damaged Goods has been based in Brussels since 1994, while Meg Stuart herself lives in Berlin. With a performance combining design, dance, the visual arts, fashion and music, she is appearing at the HAU Hebbel am Ufer again in March. The artistic collaboration on “Sketches/Notebook” in 2013 has been resumed. Having been created during a residency at the HAU Hebbel am Ufer, it can now be seen for one last time in Berlin after guest performances elsewhere. In the “Supernova” support format, Meg Stuart and the artists involved light up and then burn out – so to speak – the material they have since accumulated. At the premiere of “Sketches/Notebook” five years ago, the journalist Astrid Kaminski wrote a portrait article on Meg Stuart. In the same way as the performance, we pick up where we left off with a new version of her article. It was originally published in the art magazine Frieze d/e (Issue 9, Apr - May 2013). Astrid Kaminski has updated it for tanzraumberlin, adding elements from a later portrait essay for Theater der Zeita (issue 6/2015).

A small, cumbersome figure wrapped in a heavy robe of layered quilts, her mouth stuck in a grimace, each foot shackled to a sack of bricks as if about to be drowned. A picture that hurts, even if there is no story to accompany it – not even a scream. Arranged into this static-looking image, the dancer and choreographer Meg Stuart drags herself across the floor in her collective performance “Sketches/Notebook” (2013). At the other end of the room, costume designer Claudia Hill, who dressed Stuart beforehand, strips her back down to her thin, naked skin.

Designers and live musicians are often seen on stage in Stuart’s productions. The entire first part of “Sketches” belongs to Hill. Again and again, she readies the dancers for a brief photo shoot before tidily hanging all the props back on the clothes racks. This act provides an insight into the rehearsal process, but also involves a bit of child-like dressing up as well as an unusual kind of catwalk flair – voguing. There is nevertheless also a hint of futility. There is no need for a dress. In “Blessed” (premiered in 2007 at the Berliner Volksbühne) it was Jean-Paul Lespagnard who dressed the dancer Francisco Camacho - soaked, like the cardboard palm tree and swan props, by the artificial cloudburst on stage – in a beach towel and a death mask. The scene may be paradise or a typhoid-infested quagmire, but at least the issue of style has been taken care of. It is not a question of dress code, but rather a counterpart or partner reading the mood.

Explosion of energy
Asked whether her tendency to turn the stage into a dressing room points to a hidden Marie Antoinette complex, Stuart answers: “So not!” Instead, she explains her need for designers by saying that “individualities are incomplete”. The artist herself is without make-up, in a brown vintage pullover, her bleached blonde hair tousled. Moving her hand over her head from behind, as she often does on stage, is probably her favourite gesture in private too. She has displayed the courage to appear dishevelled during her career too. The period after her Volksbühne residency under Frank Castorf were restless but extremely productive years. Her company Damaged Goods, which she founded in 1994, is still located in Brussels, her apartment is in Berlin, she did a project-specific residency under Johan Simons at the Münchner Kammerspielen, while she has also collaborated closely with the HAU Hebbel am Ufer since Annemie Vanackere took up her position as artistic director. After strong ties with the Schauspielhaus Zürich (2000 – 2004) and the Volksbühne (2005 – 2010), these are artistically intense but loose associations with theatres involving extensive touring.

She has created various performances, such as “VIOLET” (PACT Zollverein, Essen, 2011) – a dance mania – “Built to Last” (Münchner Kammerspiele, 2012) - an exploration of the fall of classical and pop etc. – and “Sketches/Notebook” (HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, 2013) - a choreographic self-disclosure in collective form. It is as though something has exploded over the course of these performances. They were followed by the magical piece “UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP” (Münchner Kammerspiele, 2015), which not even those who fervently detest the esoteric could resist, and “Projecting [Space[” (2017) for the Ruhr Triennial and “Celestial Sorrow” (Kaaitheater Brussels, 2018) in collaboration with the installation artist Jompet Kuswidananto. It did not come as a surprise when at the start of the year it was announced that Meg Stuart would be awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Dance Biennale in the summer.

Meg Stuart maintains vibrant yet committed relationships – few European choreographers of contemporary dance can match her record. Residencies at theatres where dance is not part of the usual programme are rarely available, except to her. To hear the choreographer, who is now in her 50s and celebrated her last big birthday with the biographical cut-up piece “Hunter” (HAU Hebbel am Ufer, 2014), tell the story, it sounds as if her own career came about more by chance than design. She is very good at understatement but part of this is genuine shyness: “Some people think I’m shy. If you get to know me  – the same.”

Polyvalent, auratic construct
The “Sketches”, which are now being resumed at the HAU Hebbel am Ufer, were always conceived as a collection of ideas and as a kind of harvest rather than a completed, smoothly choreographed oeuvre. Each of the performers, musicians and (lighting) designers closely associated with Meg Stuart – Brendan Dougherty, Claudia Hill, Jorge De Hoyos, Mikko Hynninen, Vladimir Miller, Antonija Livingstone, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni and Julian Weber - contributes something from their own profession. While not intended, this ultimately produces a deeply auratic construct through which the team moves as if it were Ariadne’s Thread. Much is reminiscent of what is already familiar but, as Antonija Livingstone put it, it is polyvalent. As so often in Stuart’s productions, the lighting by Mikko Hynninen seems to be filtered through celluloid. There is a hint of a pale reflection as if the party is always already over, even when, as in “Visitors Only” (Schauspielhaus Zürich, 2003), it is still in full swing – or is somehow different depending on various layers of reality between longing and remembering and reality and fiction. There is an impulse over which an afterglow already hangs, but also a fear of pointlessness and futility.

The quilted lady mentioned before also made a previous appearance, featuring under the working title of “Blanket Lady” in the performance-exhibition “Moments” (2012) at the Karlsruher ZKM. This figure with the aura of a sad down-and-out queen, like something straight out of a Samuel Beckett play, conveys the basic mood of Stuart’s existentiality. Her company is called Damaged Goods and it does not take much imagination to extend the application of damaged goods to the body. This vehicle, which makes so much possible, on one hand, but rules out so much on the other, is loaded with both energy and pain at the same time. It is not so much Munch-like pain with a gaping mouth as a hollowed-out final form of existence but rather that of an overstretched body that is not warm which was the basis for “Disfigure Study”, Meg Stuart’s breakthrough performance in 1991. In a figurative sense, there is the pain of a self that constantly has to act and react but hardly ever has adequate means with which to do so.

“There is never exact harmony between what is going on in our minds and what is happening with our bodies,” explained Stuart in “Are we here yet?” (published in 2010/14), a book on the poetics of her work published by the author and the dramatist Jeroen Peeters. This sentence leads her to the problem of an impossible presence. She sees thought, memory and imagination as overlapping activities, entwined with one another but which take place at different levels and in various ways and each with its own logic, generating a kind of endogenous noise. Her method is to crank up the noise and then to channel it with mental and somatic techniques.

Bodies as shells and sensory apparatuses
Meg Stuart’s performers are neither themselves nor do they embody particular figures. They do not appear in the tension of the post-dramatic pose between “mask” and “person”. They are already the product of a subject forming multiple possible realities that divide back into themselves. Although there are pieces like “Maybe Forever” (Kaaitheater, Brussels, 2007) and “BLESSED” that hint at psychological figures or deal with specific relationship issues, the bodies of Stuart’s performers are more shells and sensory apparatuses than characters. They are somatically explored, psychologically corrupted bodies that shiver, articulate ticks, pull faces, get in a whirl and become entangled. Not tied to any particular soul, they are traumatic dream dancers imprisoned in a vegetative fabric of interconnected movements.

The “empty body” is an important artistic tool for Meg Stuart, as are her studies of trance-like states, providing a base from which the body can become a container and a laboratory of mixed emotions. That is also what gives her works their often contemplative, even meditative quality, in spite of the aggressive music and abrupt scene changes. But this does not mean relaxation in the conventional sense but more of a David-Lynch-like “Mulholland Drive” feeling, a perpetual nervousness that lasts and lasts until it has formed a level of its own, becoming absolute.

Stuart’s oeuvre as a whole is also a kind of container, open to influences from almost every field of the arts. The fact that she comes from a theatrical family definitely also plays a role as do the handovers from one parent to another over the famous Californian Highway 101 in her childhood. During her time in New York in the 1980s and early 1990s, she lived in SoHo, visiting several galleries a day. With hindsight, she says her sense of choreographic space was very much shaped by her studies of pictorial composition. This led to many collaborations with visual artists and filmmakers, including Gary Hill, Ann Hamilton and Pierre Coulibeuf.

Compaction to the point of eruption
In her book on Stuart, Bild in Bewegung und Choreographie (Image in Motion and Choreography, 2008), art theorist Annamira Jochim, who has spent years analysing the artist’s works, inverts this relationship, looking for aspects of an expanded definition of the performativity of pictures. Material for this approach is provided above all by the different viewing angles in spatially fragmented choreographies like Highway 101 (2000) and Visitors Only. The “Sketches” aesthetic with its partial audience mobility – during the performance a whole row of seats is periodically placed on a ramp bringing Simone Fortis’ “Dance Constructions” to mind – does not need to underline its experimental character. There is an air of nonchalance as though the audience and performers agree that they know the rules of the game but do not have to explore them.

This attitude of wanting to give something at best but not always wishing to offer it also means the audience sometimes has to bear with it. There is no compulsion. If something does not spark, it continues to smoulder. The audience must put up with this and there is not much to elevate here either. Meg Stuart is not known for letting conceptual statements limit her scope of action. Surrendering to the process is the true constant across all the variation in her works. The sense of letting things happen is perhaps not expressed as well anywhere as in “UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP” and in “Sketches/Notebook”. Sometimes like a volcanic process, where the depth of collaboration produces an eruption, and sometimes like a game marvelling at the material assembled. It is perhaps this scope for freedom that makes Meg Stuart’s performers, who usually also have their own solo careers, so munificent. Like the marbles that roll over the boards in “Sketches”, they have no particular goal, they follow their orbit and shimmer. This self-energy is not starting capital but rather the result of precise artistic work on these rather fragile and damaged goods in which we pass through life.

24 Nov 2018
Practicing dying with ironic grandeur

Der Standard
Helmut Ploebst

She dances with such phenomenal control of the body that even the most complex combinations of movement seem as self-evident as normal communicative behaviour. The words leave his mouth as if the most outlandish chains of thought belong to everyday language. He succeeds in speaking without a mic in the most unaffected tone of everyday conversation yet can be clearly understood in the whole theatre.

Understatement and mastery are combined in the performance “Shown and Told” by and featuring Meg Stuart and Tim Etchells. Both artists appeared as if they were only briefly passing by and had to go straight back to work in a tavern serving beer and bar food. They wear jeans and trainers – him in a light-blue t-shirt and her in a loose yellow, brown and black chequered top – all bargain brands.

Shaking things up and great power of persuasion
They hardly need to blow their own trumpets – neither 51-year-old Stuart – who enduringly shook up the contemporary dance scene of the time at just 27 years of age to the extent that it was no longer as it was before – nor 56-year-old Etchells, who developed such a convincingly fresh type of performance in the 1990s with his Sheffield-based group Forced Entertainment that British theatre suddenly thrilled the whole of Europe. Over the years, they have succeeded in developing a lightness, verve and persuasive force which goes far beyond most of what currently passes through contemporary choreography companies.

Voices like the wind
In “Shown and Told” both appear in the spotlight at the same time. Stuart immediately starts to dance, while Etchells keeps his distance, watches her, reads her movements and starts to speak: “It is like the sound of voices from another room, like a noise coming from the room above when you can’t really hear the voices and they sound more like the wind blowing through an alley.” The audience is transported into another world where associations and images are triggered by dance.

Complex feelings
This distribution of roles – him the wordsmith and her the master of body language – is not maintained. Stuart also engages in language: “I dance to ask questions and because I have too much energy, so that I can practice dying and can make love to the floor all day long...” In this vein, situations, sketches and scenes are played out, complex feelings are invoked and imaginary cities conjured up. There is ironic grandeur throughout where mockery and anger about the outside world are sometimes combined.

“Are you there?”
Artistic loops constantly ramp up the tension and absurd interjections provide amusement. At one point he looks at her and asks: “Are you there?” In astonishment, she replies: “Is that a serious or a philosophical question?” He says: “More of a political one.” Yes, exactly, there is also a political dimension to this performance not presented as a militant vendor’s tray. The audience in the sold-out TQW Hall G was enraptured and not without good reason.

24 Nov 2018
Sterben üben mit ironischer Grandezza
[ German ]
Der Standard
Helmut Ploebst

Die brillante Performance "Shown and Told" von Meg Stuart und Tim Etchells im Tanzquartier Wien

Sie tanzt mit einer so überragenden Körperbeherrschung, dass die kompliziertesten Bewegungskombinationen mit der Selbstverständlichkeit von ganz normalem Kommunikationsverhalten daherkommen. Und er lässt seine Worte vom Stapel, als gehörten die abgefahrensten Gedankenketten zum alltäglichen Sprachgebrauch. Dabei schafft er es, ohne Mikro im ungekünstelten Tonfall einer Gebrauchskonversation zu sprechen, der im ganzen Theaterraum verständlich ist.

Understatement und Meisterschaft paaren sich bei dem Stück "Shown and Told" von und mit Meg Stuart und Tim Etchells, das nur noch bis heute, Samstag, im Tanzquartier Wien zu sehen ist. Die beiden Künstler treten auf, als kämen sie nur kurz einmal vorbei und müssten gleich wieder zur Arbeit in ein Beisl, in dem sie Bier und kleine Speisen servieren. In Jeans und Turnschuhen, er im hellblauen T-Shirt, sie im weiten, gelb-braun-schwarz gescheckten Oberteil, alles Marke Sonderangebot.

Aufmischerin und Überzeugungskraft
Auftrumpfen müssen sie ja nicht. Weder Stuart (51), die mit nur 27 Jahren den damals zeitgenössischen Tanz so nachhaltig aufgemischt hat, dass er nie mehr so wurde, wie er vorher war. Noch Etchells (56), der in den 1990-ern mit seiner Sheffielder Gruppe Forced Entertainment eine so überzeugend frische Art der Performance entwickelte, dass britisches Theater auf einmal ganz Europa begeisterte. Dabei ist es ihnen gelungen, über die Jahre eine Leichtigkeit, Verve und Überzeugungskraft zu entwickeln, die weit über das meiste hinausreichen, was derzeit durch die Häuser der zeitgenössischen Choreografie hechelt.

Stimmen wie ein Wind
In "Shown and Told" treten die beiden gleichzeitig ins Rampenlicht. Stuart beginnt sofort zu tanzen, Etchells hält Abstand zu ihr, schaut sie an, liest ihre Bewegungen und beginnt zu sprechen: "Es ist wie der Klang von Stimmen aus einem anderen Raum, wie ein Geräusch, das von einem obenliegenden Raum kommt und sich nicht wirklich wie Stimmen anhört, sondern mehr wie ein Wind, der durch einen Gang weht..." Und schon sind die Zuschauer fortgetragen in eine andere Welt, in eine Zone der Assoziationen und Bilder, die durch den Tanz ausgelöst werden.

Verzwickte Gefühle
Bei dieser Rollenverteilung – Meister der Worte und Meisterin der Körpersprache – bleibt es nicht. Auch Stuart springt in die Sprache: "Ich tanze, um Fragen zu stellen und weil ich zuviel Energie habe, weil ich so das Sterben üben und den ganzen Tag Liebe mit dem Boden machen kann..." In diesem Sinn werden Situationen, Skizzen und Szenen durchgespielt, verzwickte Gefühle beschworen und imaginäre Städte gebaut. Durchwegs mit ironischer Grandezza, in die sich manchmal Spott und Ärger über die Welt draußen mischen.

"Bist du da?"
Kunstvolle Loops steigern immer wieder die Spannung, absurde Brüche sorgen für Heiterkeit. Einmal schaut er sie an und fragt: "Bist du da?" Sie, verwundert: "Ist das eine ernste oder eine philosophische Frage?" Er: "Eher eine politische." Ja genau, es gibt noch eine politische Ebene in der Performance, die sich nicht als aktivistischer Bauchladen andient. Aus gutem Grund war das Publikum in der voll besetzten TQW-Halle G begeistert.

19 Nov 2018
Ear candles to ward off pain

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Eva-Maria Magel

Everyone must make up their own mind about what lies beyond and any higher being. But what would such a being see if it observed people on this side? Perhaps creatures like the three rolling around the dancefloor of the Frankfurt Mousonturm. Anyone attempting to help Jule Flierl, Claire Vivianne Sobottke or Gaëtan Rusquet may have come in for some abuse, or perhaps received a marriage proposal. One begs for a little bit of love in ludicrous, red platform shoes and an alien with giant ears and a face mask bedecked with glittering stones chirps strange arias. The third is initially maltreated by the others and then healed – with the help of an ear candle that is set alight as if we were visiting an Indonesian natural healer. Meg Stuart may have imported the idea of the ear torch from Indonesia as this is where inspiration for her most recent performance has been sought. The American choreographer called the evening that rounded off the third Rhein-Main dance festival “Celestial Sorrow”. It’s an ambivalent title. Could this supernatural sorrow be a being that rules over everyone and everything? Or a misery that besets the heavens and is simply observing human creatures and the idiocy that they perpetuate on Earth. Meg Stuart is anything but someone who regards herself as a god. “Celestial Sorrow” also possesses that combination of seeing the bigger picture and inward perspective that is a trait of much of her work. Stuart always balances the imperfect nature of man – alluded to by the name of her company ‘Damaged Goods’ – with a curious imagination and a good deal of irony, which straddles the intractable and obsessive when the sorrow gets too much. This is also the case in “Celestial Sorrow”, which Stuart created with the Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto. Kuswidananto is responsible for the heavens to a large extent. He nevertheless makes them look earthly using many different-sized light bulbs, some loudspeakers with a retro look and interlinked crystal chandeliers. But like these utensils, which sometimes glow a gentle orange, sometimes a bright glistening white, they possess something other worldly, the commentary on and motivation of what’s going on beneath them could be simultaneous. The sound, sometimes culminating in ear-splitting noise, is provided by the live musicians Mieko Suzuki and Ikbal Simamora Lubys, who initially produce such a spherical prelude that the audience fears that the performance will not progress beyond joss sticks, a little bit of hip movement and bizarre garments like a cape crocheted out of golden festive garland. But then Stuart’s machine starts to get into full swing in the centre of the stage surrounded on four sides by the audience. The dancing is so arrhythmic that all the turmoil experienced over a human lifetime, from personal failure to the impositions of global politics, flashes through one’s mind in the scenes. Memory is explored with little distinction between personal and social aspects while there are sharp borders alongside a conciliatory note, supported and provoked by everything from a hard beat to the Indonesian tearjerker, the latter presented as a procession under a cape of flashing lights. In this respect, “Celestial Sorrow” is ideal for the end of a festival, focusing on the music, on one hand, but also the perception and observation of the body – and also the handicapped body – on the other. The deficiencies of the world, which Stuart’s performers convey in a storm of guitar and drums, provided a final, brightly coloured bang.

19 Nov 2018
Ohrenkerzen gegen Schmerzen
[ German ]
Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung
Eva-Maria Magel

Wie wir es mit dem Jenseits halten, irgendeinem höheren Wesen, muss jeder mit sich selbst ausmachen. Was aber sähe ein solches Wesen, betrachtete es das diesseitige Personal? Vielleicht Kreaturen wie die drei, die sich auf dem Tanzboden des Frankfurter Mousonturms wälzen. Wer Jule Flierl, Claire Vivianne Sobottke und Gaëtan Rusquet zu helfen versucht, kann Beschimpfungen ernten - oder aber einen Heiratsantrag bekommen. Eine bettelt in aberwitzigen roten Plateauschuhen um ein bisschen Liebe, ein Alien mit Riesenohren und einer glitzersteinbestickten Gesichtsmaske zirpt seltsame Arien. Der Dritte wird erst von den anderen malträtiert, dann geheilt - mithilfe einer Ohrkerze, die entzündet wird, als befänden wir uns bei einem indonesischen Naturheiler. Mag sein, dass Meg Stuart auch die Fackel im Ohr aus Indonesien importiert hat, von wo Inspirationen in ihr jüngstes Stück geflossen sind. "Celestial Sorrow" hat die amerikanische Choreographin den Abend genannt, der nun das dritte Tanzfestival Rhein-Main beschlossen hat. Ein doppeldeutiger Titel. Könnte dieser überirdische Kummer ja einerseits einer sein, der alle und alles regiert. Oder aber eine Trauer, die den Himmel befällt, schaut er nur auf die menschlichen Kreaturen und den Blödsinn, den sie auf Erden veranstalten. Nun ist Meg Stuart weit davon entfernt, sich selbst für eine Göttin zu halten. Jene Mischung aus Draufsicht und Binnensicht aber, die viele ihrer Arbeiten auszeichnet, hat auch "Celestial Sorrow". Das Fehlerhafte, Beschädigte des Menschen, das schon im Namen ihrer Compagnie Damaged Goods anklingt, hält sich bei Stuart immer die Waage mit einer kuriosen Phantasie und sehr viel Ironie, die dazwischengrätscht, wenn es gar zu viel werden sollte mit dem Leid, dem Unlösbaren und Obsessiven. So ist es auch in "Celestial Sorrow", das Stuart mit dem indonesischen Künstler Jompet Kuswidananto geschaffen hat. Kuswidananto ist gewissermaßen für den Himmel zuständig: Er hat aber einen irdischen geschaffen- aus unzähligen verschieden großen Glühbirnen, dazu einigen Lautsprechern im Retro- Look und ineinander verschränkten Kristalllüstern. Aber wie diese Utensilien mal zartorange glühend, mal weißgleißend hell pulsieren, haben sie doch etwas Jenseitiges, das Kommentar und Motivation des Treibens unter ihnen zugleich sein könnte. Die Klänge, bisweilen bis zum ohrenbetäubenden Krach, tragen die Live-Musiker Mieko Suzuki und Ikbal Simamora Lubys bei, die am Anfang so verhalten sphärisch präludieren, dass man fast schon fürchtet, es bleibe bei Räucherstäbchen, ein wenig Hüftwiegen und seltsamen Gewandungen wie einem aus goldenen Weihnachtsgirlanden gehäkelten Umhang. Dann aber fährt in der Bühnenmitte, umgeben an vier-Seiten von Zuschauern, die Stuart-Maschine hoch. Es wird so arhythmisch getanzt, dass die ganze Verkorkstheit, die sich in einem Menschenleben ansammeln kann, von persönlichem Versagen bis zu den Zumutungen der globalen Politik in den Szenen aufblitzen können. Dazu wird in Erinnerungen gekramt, zwischen Persönlichem und Gesellschaftlichen mag sich das nicht entscheiden und setzt scharfe Kanten neben Versöhnliches, begleitet und provoziert vom harten Beat bis zur indonesischen Schnulze, Letztere vorgetragen als Prozession unter einem Umhang aus Blinklichtern. Insofern passte "Celestial Sorrow" gut ans Ende eines Festivals, das der Musik einerseits und der Wahrnehmung und Betrachtung des Körpers, auch des gehandicappten Körpers, andererseits Raum geben wollte. Die Handicaps der Welt jedenfalls, die Stuarts Performer im Gitarren- und Trommelgewitter hervorholen, waren ein letzter, quietschbunter Knall.

28 Jan 2017
It’s like… He talks a bit and she dances a bit

Utopia Parkway
Hans-Maarten Post

‘Shown And Told’ (Meg Stuart & Tim Etchells)

“I dance because I wanted to be a magician but I’m not good with stuff”, Meg Stuart tells the audience, somewhere along Show And Told, her collaboration with Tim Etchells. If the piece proves one thing, it’s how good the American choreographer and the British (performance) artist actually are with stuff. Be it other stuff. Movement stuff. Language stuff.

It’s like… Well. He talks a bit and she dances a bit. Then she talks, and he… tries to move a bit. Summarized in two sentences, Shown And Told would look a bit like… this. It is the kind of piece in which nothing spectacular happens, but what happens can be spectacular, if you’re willing to look and listen.

Meg Stuart and Tim Etchells. A combination that undoubtedly will arouse the interest of many festival programmers. A well-known choreographer (Damaged Goods) and a respected performance artist (Forced Entertainment) collaborating. But Shown And Told isn’t a piece for the big stages. It feels more like a low-key workshop. A “structured improvisation” is what they call it.

They have been working together on a number of occasions in the past. Etchells contributed text to a couple of Meg’s pieces (for instance: Alibi, in 2001). They met again, working on Expo Zéro, an improvisation project by Boris Charmatz in Berlin in 2014 and decided to do this piece together.

What they share is “an interest in fragments, in parts of a movement, gesture or state”, Stuart and Etchells told the audience at a post performance talk at Kaaitheater (Brussels; December 2016). “What it is to work with them as pieces. Assemble them, disassemble them. And it is interesting to see somebody do the same in another language.” Etchells: “For instance, I’m interested in things such as stream of consciousness, in reinventing and morphing language. Bringing that to Meg opens it in a different way.”

Or as he phrased it, in an interview in the Kaaitheater programme: “The biggest and simplest connection is our common idea of a human being as a kind of meeting point for many different voices, impulses or presences. Many forces, narratives and possibilities move through us in any give moment.” What he and Meg do not have, Etchells said during the talk, is a “shared methodology”. And thus: doing this performance together “is a bit off territory, and that’s the attraction of working together.”

It’s clear that it is appealing for them to do this together. But they are clever enough to come up with a performance that isn’t too self-centered or hermetic. It’s actually quite interesting and sometimes funny to see them play with movement and language. What they come up with on stage might be simple, light and straightforward, but by the way they present all of this to an audience, you just feel that these two bodies and minds carry a couple of decades of experience. Just don’t expect spectacular things to happen.

31 May 2017
Jury report het TheaterFestival (INFINI 1-15)

het TheaterFestival 2017

Infini 1-15 by Decoratelier

In recent years, visual artist Jozef Wouters has risen to prominence with ingenious site-specific installations, performances, seating tribunes and sets for artists such as Meg Stuart and Claire Croizé. In INFINI 1-15 he steps out of the public space and into the large ‘box’ of the theatre. And rather than storming and conquering the surroundings, as you might expect from a young artist, Wouters negotiates the existing infrastructure with great intelligence. Inspired by the spectacles des machines of the eighteenth-century scenographer Giovanni Servandoni, he invited fourteen writers, theatre producers, choreographers and architects to create an infini: an interpretation of the painted backdrops that were once raised and lowered to lend depth to each new scene. Wouters reinvigorates this historic technique.

The shape of INFINI 1-15 cannot be seen: a performance with just sets, one might imagine. Crafted in Wouters’ Decoratelier, these pieces of scenery are both impressive and enchanting, even when at their most minimal. They fully succeed in turning the theatre into an imagination machine. For over four hours, and from the one seat, you journey through time and space: from dead-end Palestinian tunnels and the office of the European border guard agency, Frontex, to a pitch-black room. The theatre as a black cube, from which everything and nothing might arise.

INFINI 1-15 lends porosity to the boundaries between craftsmanship, art and scenography. Drawing on his vast knowledge and respect for theatre history, Wouters considers the future of the institute. In so doing, he incidentally proves that younger creators are unafraid of big auditoriums, as is often claimed. Furthermore, he is dismissive of the big messages presupposed by large auditoriums and reclaims the theatre as a studio, with space for experimentation. This thoughtful reflection on the theatre itself was greatly appreciated by the jury.

INFINI 1-15 not only researches which (utopian) landscapes we ought to depict in today’s theatre, but also the very act of looking. How can we rethink the central perspective of the classical theatre into an era in which nobody appears to be looking through the same glasses? Wouters shares his space with a wide range of up-and-coming international artists. It typifies the cooperative spirit of a generation of theatre-makers who don’t privilege their own ego and elevate the spirit of collaboration into their new credo. Instead of one perspective, you gain a kaleidoscopic view of the world. The outlook is nothing less than infinite... A performance as an unparalleled gesture.

Anna Rispoli, Arkadi Zaides, Begüm Erciyas, Benny Claessens, Chris Keulemans, Jisun Kim, Jozef Wouters, Michiel Soete, Michiel Vandevelde, Rebekka de Wit, Remah Jabr, Rodrigo Sobarzo, Sis Matthé, Thomas Bellinck, Wim Cuyvers

INFINI 1-15 was presented May 2016 at the main auditorium of the Brussels City Theatre (KVS) during the Kunstenfestivaldesarts.

21 Apr 2017
Meg Stuart: Der wüste Schatz einer verlorenen Jägerin
[ German ]
der Standard
Helmut Ploebst

Die belgisch-deutsche Choreografin und Tänzerin begeisterte mit ihrem finster funkelnden, autobiografisch angelegten Solostück "Hunter" von 2014 im Tanzquartier Wien.

Wien – Sie sind immer da, all die Bilder, Geschichten und Blessuren des eigenen Lebens – irgendwo im Gedächtnis bei Körpertemperatur mehr oder weniger gut aufgehoben. Diese Last hat die belgisch-deutsche Choreografin Meg Stuart, geboren 1965 in New Orleans, dazu getrieben, die Schränke ihrer Vergangenheit aufzureißen und eine Unmenge an herausstürzenden Schätzen vor sich herzujagen. In dem beinahe zweistündigen Solowerk Hunter (2014), das gerade im Tanzquartier Wien zu sehen war, hat sie die Spuren dieser Hatz protokolliert.

Als normale autobiografische Arbeit geht Hunter keinesfalls durch. Denn Stuarts choreografisches Jagdprotokoll ist geknittert, zerschnitten, überzeichnet und neu zusammengeklebt. So hat die Künstlerin aus Hunter eine Darstellung ihres unordentlichen Gedächtnisses gemacht. Im Mittelpunkt des Stücks stehen ausgedehnte Tanzpassagen, die zeigen, wie Stuart von der Jägerin zur Gejagten wird. Das stürzende Material hat sich gegen die Tänzerin gewendet, ist durch ihren Körper gefahren und hat diesen mitgerissen, seine Gestalt verformt, sie zu ihrer Marionette gemacht und schlussendlich ihren Widerstand provoziert.

Verloren in bunten Weiten

Im Stück hat sie wieder die volle Kontrolle. Doch ihrem Tanz ist zu entnehmen, wie hart dieser Kampf gewesen sein muss – auch wenn Meg Stuart zu Beginn von Hunter noch harmlos an einem Tisch bastelt.

Was da passiert, ist in einer Videoprojektion zu beobachten. lnmitten eines gespinsthaften Gestells (Bühne: Barbara Ehnes) schneidet sie Fotos aus, baut eine kleine Installation, fackelt darin Papier ab, steht auf und tanzt zu einer Musik-Sound-Stimmen-Collage von Vincent Malstaf, die Stuarts Protokoll einen rastlosen Raum gibt. Stimmen – von Stuarts Eltern, Bruder, Mitarbeitern -, Songs und elektronische Atmosphärenverstärker schnalzen aus Malstafs Soundmischer und -häcksler. Etwa in der Mitte des Stücks zieht Stuart einen riesigen, ausgestopften Mantel über, in dessen bunten Weiten sie sich verliert. Erst nach erfolgter Selbstbefreiung spricht die Choreografin selbst und live.

Ein unerwünschtes Geschenk

Sie erzählt unter anderem vom Laientheater ihres Vaters, in dem so grottenschlecht gespielt wurde, dass es ihr als Kind buchstäblich die Sprache verschlug. Oder, wie sie als Jugendliche ihren Hund, den sie auf den Namen Anonymous getauft hatte, verwildern ließ. "Ich weiß nicht, warum alle Yoko Ono hassen", sagt sie später. Dann singt sie zur Einspielung von Yoko Onos Revelations und lässt den betulichen Song – "Bless you for what you are" – in grandioser Kakophonie einen hässlichen Tod sterben.

Kunst sei so etwas wie ein unerwünschtes Geschenk, mit dem man irgendwie leben müsse, hat sie zuvor geätzt. Immer wieder steuert Stuart ihren Körper durch Film-, Foto- und Videoprojektionen (Chris Kondek), die zwischen Familienidyllen oder Landschaftsaufnahmen auf Super 8 und Experimentalfilm-Bildstörfeuer wechseln.

Am Ende wird alles gelöscht, die Bilder, der Lärm, die Bewegung und das Licht. Hunter ist ein Schatz von finsterer Brillanz.

Aug 2017
Es liegt in der Gestalt des Feuers
[ German ]
Jeroen Peeters


„Das Theater ist ein wunderbarer Ort zum Träumen,“ sagt Meg Stuart im Solostück „Hunter“ (2014), um mit ihrem ironischen Monolog fortzufahren: „Stell dir vor, dieser Ort wäre nicht immer ein Theater.“ Zuvor hatte sie von Online-Kreativität als Vorbild für andere Realitäten gesprochen; von der rigiden Natur der Architektur und des Stadtbilds, die nur eine einzige Funktion haben; von Leuten, deren Wege sich in der Untergrundbahn oder im Supermarkt kreuzen, die sich aber nicht wirklich begegnen. „Stell dir vor, dieses Theater wäre ein Ort, wo die Leute einmal im Monat Blut spenden. Oder wo Menschen zusammenkommen, um gemeinsam all ihre Ikea-Möbel zu verbrennen, in einer Art von rituellem Statement. Ganz verschiedene Aktionen, weißt du.“ Ich erinnere mich, wie stark die ZuschauerInnen auf diesen Vorschlag reagierten, sich ihr Theater anders vorzustellen, und wie sie im Foyer nach der Vorstellung ihre eigenen Ideen diskutierten. Vielleicht war das der erste Funke – ein kollektiver Traum, der aus dem Theater hinausfloss und sich langsam verbreitete, getragen von all den Anwesenden. Wie stellen wir uns Theater und andere Kunsträume heute und morgen vor? Wie gestalten wir diese Begegnungsstätten, diese Laboratorien unseres Zusammenlebens? Während der vergangenen Jahre sind diese Fragen in unseren Unterhaltungen immer wieder aufgetaucht – mit der Choreografin Meg Stuart und dem Bühnenbildner Jozef Wouters und mit vielen anderen, die an „Projecting [Space[“ mitarbeiteten. Einen Monat lang arbeitet die Tanzkompanie Damaged Goods vor Ort in der Zentralwerkstatt Lohberg in Dinslaken und verwandelt diese in eine vorübergehende Umgebung für die Imagination und für Experimente mit kollektiven Praktiken der Begegnung und Herstellung. Diese Notizen wurden inspiriert von den Recherchen und Proben für „Projecting [Space[“, geschrieben wurden sie jedoch, bevor wir in Dinslaken ankamen – von gelegentlichen Ortsbesuchen abgesehen. Sie sind nicht wirklich eine Gebrauchsanweisung, sondern eher Notizen zu Fragen, die uns beschäftigen, Notizen aus dem Niemandsland. Sie befassen sich mit verschiedenen Arten, Energie zu transformieren, mit ekstatischen Begegnungen und Achtsamkeit für das Unbekannte – gesammelt wurden viele verschiedene Ressourcen, die das schwelende Lagerfeuer, das ein Probenprozess darstellt, am Leben hielten. Jozef Wouters, der sich schon immer für die Schönheit prekärer Strukturen interessiert hat, fand dieses Bild dafür: „Für mich ist der Sinn eines Lagerfeuers, dass man etwas aufbaut, das man vorhat zu verbrennen – es muss nicht stabil sein oder Jahre halten. Etwas anzuzünden bedeutet, es zu konsumieren, es zu verbrauchen. Das hat einen hedonistischen Aspekt. Je mehr das Feuer brennt, desto unsichtbarer und kleiner wird die Konstruktion, und dann wird auch die Gruppe von Leuten, die darum herumsitzen, kleiner, bis alle zusammenhocken und Stockbrot essen.“

Eine Wand des Probenraums ist vollgehängt mit Bildern, die die Mitwirkenden gesammelt haben. Ein Arrangement von blauen und rotbraunen Bildern zeigt einen Körper, der flach auf einer Asphaltstrasse liegt, neben einer riesigen Landschaft, die von Bulldozern leergefegt wurde; darunter sieht man eine Tiefgarage, die in eine fantastische Grotte führt, an deren Ende ein Licht schimmert. Darunter kann man sich weitere Welten vorstellen, vielleicht bis zu einer Tiefe von 1,2 Kilometern – wie die Schächte und Stollen, die die Bergbauindustrie in Dinslaken-Lohberg hinterlassen hat. Einstmals trieb die Kohle, die im Ruhrgebiet gefördert und verbrannt wurde, eine ganze Industrie und Kultur der Arbeiter und Produktion voran, während die Gesellschaft und kulturellen Muster heute von anderen Energiequellen definiert werden, da die fossilen Brennstoffe schnell zur Neige gehen. Wenn bestimmte Energiequellen einen tiefgreifenden Einfluss auf die kulturelle Produktion einer Ära haben, wie sieht dann die Zukunft aus? In „Art and Energy“ befasst sich Barry Lord mit der Frage, wie kulturelle Werte mit den Energiequellen verbunden sind, die sich uns im Lauf der Zeiten erschlossen haben – von sexueller und kinetischer Energie zu Feuer und Zusammenarbeit, bis zur Atomenergie. Im Probenraum führten wir seine Spekulationen zu erneuerbaren Energien und einer „Kultur der nachhaltigen Verwaltung“ fort, die sich mehr mit unseren Körpern und unserer Erde befasst. Unsere Diskussion entfernte sich rasch von Holz und Kohle und kam zu dem, was Körper dazu treibt, zu tanzen, wahrzunehmen, zu beobachten. „Wie steht es um die Energie von Heilpraktiken? Oder der Hitze einer großen Anzahl von Körpern bei einer Rave-Party? Wie können wir die Energie des Publikums katalysieren? Ist Empfindsamkeit eine Energiequelle? Und Fiktion?“

Nachdem er einen Dokumentarfilm über Edelsteine und Kristalle gesehen hatte, erzählte uns Márcio Kerber Canabarro, einer der Tänzer, dass sie unter hohem Druck entstehen. Wie wäre es, einen Kristall zu ernten? Man stelle sich die nahezu endlose Menge von Zeit und Druck vor, die benötigt wird, um eine solch präzise Form und Substanz hervorzubringen. Oder die noch ungeborenen Fossilien, Minerale und Kristalle, die die Spuren unserer Zeit in eine ferner Zukunft tragen. „Sie sind die zukünftigen uralten Wesen, ein Bewusstsein, das lange fortdauern wird, nachdem wir alle verschwunden sind, wenn alle organischen Formen erschöpft sind.“

In einer Ecke der Bilderwand befinden sich einige Fotos von aufgelassenen Industriegebäuden, verlassenen Freizeitparks und Einkaufszentren oder auch brachliegenden Weltausstellungs-Pavillons und Olympiastadien. Moderne Ruinen, ohne menschliche Präsenz. Was erzählen uns die Hochglanzbilder von diesen implodierten Träumen? Die sogenannten „Ruinen-Pornos“ von ehemaligen Autofabriken und allen möglichen modernen Kathedralen in Detroit sind vor allem auf Sensation und Konsum ausgerichtet. Die Wirtschaftskrise und die sozialen Dramen, die mit ihr einhergehen, sind aus diesen Bildern, die zu keinerlei kritischer Betrachtung einladen, subtrahiert. Brauchen wir vielleicht andere Bilder, um zu einer alternativen Betrachtungsweise dessen zu gelangen, was diese Ruinen hervorgebracht hat? Die vielen ehemaligen Kohle- und Stahlwerke im Ruhrgebiet sind auf gewisse Art riesige Probenräume. Manche sind tatsächlich in Umgebungen verwandelt worden, die ganz anderen Zwecken dienen, zum Beispiel den darstellenden Künsten. Das sind alles Versuche, diesen Gebäuden neue Funktionen und Ziele zu geben, und den Menschen, die vormals dort arbeiteten, eine neue Vorstellung ihres eigenen Lebens. Die Kunst agiert als Hüterin des Experiments und der Vorstellungskraft beim Prozess, in dem eine Gemeinschaft nach alternativen Zugängen zu den Themen Arbeit, Nahrung, Bildung, Zusammenkunft, Ritual etc. sucht. Nicht zu vergessen Freizeit, Ruhe, Protest, gar Faulheit – das „Nicht Tun“ ist auch eine Art des Tuns, das Aufmerksamkeit verdient. Dank des Interesses an Industriearchitektur bietet die Umwandlung dieser Fabrikgebäude auch Übungsräume in einem anderen Sinne. Zukünftig wird es neue und andere verlassene Gebäude geben, die auf neue Bestimmungen warten. Man stelle sich all die verlassenen Flughäfen in der nicht-so-fernen Zukunft nach dem Ende des globalen Ölfördermaximums vor – was machen wir mit denen? Verwandeln wir sie in Museen der Moderne? Oder werden sie, die jetzt für unpersönliche, rasche Mobilität stehen, in der Post-Arbeits-Gesellschaft Orte zum Verweilen sein? Fitnessstudios für Menschen, die ihre atrophierten Körper in Schuss halten wollen, wenn Drohnen und Roboter alle Arbeiten übernommen haben? Bereiche für Versammlungen, Begegnungen und Rituale? Man stelle sich all die Verhaltensweisen und Lebensstile vor, die an einem solchen Ort praktiziert werden könnten.

Theatergebäude fallen ebenso dem Ruin anheim, obwohl die Zeit ihres Verfalls unserer Aufmerksamkeit und Vorstellungskraft als Theaterbesucher verborgen bleibt. Trotzdem ergreifen die Elemente vollständig Besitz von den Überresten eines verlassenen Theaters, lang bevor der Wald es sich zurückerobert. „Wie kann man bei einem Ereignis, das sich nicht an uns wendet, präsent sein? Wie kann man Ereignissen und Phänomenen beiwohnen, die jenseits unserer Sinne stattfinden?“ Auf der Suche nach Antworten auf diese Fragen folgt der Künstler Augusto Corrieri einer Mücke, die um den Kopf eines Schauspielers herumschwirrt, und lässt sich vom Stück ablenken. Oder er fragt sich, wie man das Theater auch als tatsächliches Gebäude aus Steinen betrachten kann. Plötzlich verlagert sich der Hintergrund in den Vordergrund, nichtmenschliche Akteure und unterschiedliche Zeitlichkeiten kommen ins Spiel. In einem Essay kommt er zu dem Schluss: „Dank der ökologischen Katastrophe und des anthropogenen Klimawandels hat sich plötzlich eine unumkehrbare Verschiebung der Perspektive aufgedrängt: Das Außen ist in das Auditorium eingebrochen; oder vielmehr merken wir gerade erst, dass das Außen schon immer drinnen gewesen ist.“

In einer weiteren Umkehrung bat Meg Stuart die Tänzern in den Proben die Landschaft zu lesen, während die Landschaft sie zur gleichen Zeit liest. „Dein Körper ist hochsensibel, deine Gliedmaßen sind wie Antennen. Du spürst und verfolgst Verbindungslinien – zu den Dingen vor dir, zu den Energien um dich herum, zu unsichtbaren Erscheinungen.“ Man stelle sich so eine Begegnung vor, in der der Raum einen entziffert, während man zusieht. Oder stellen Sie sich vor, dass Ihr hochsensibler Körper sanft über den Betonboden einer ehemaligen Bergwerksfabrik streift. Würde er dadurch ortsbezogen? Würden die Bedingungen von Material und Raum zu Partnern in dieser Unterhaltung, dieser Begegnung von heterogenen Oberflächen und Begehrlichkeiten? Stellen Sie sich Ihre Aufmerksamkeit für die kleinsten Teilchen vor, wenn jemand eine Handvoll Staub durch den Raum pustet.

Wenn man nach rechts blickt, sieht man wie die Fotos sich an der Wand bis zur Decke erstrecken. Sie folgen der Dynamik der Menschen auf den Bildern, die Räume mit hölzernen Rahmen konstruieren, Dinge organisieren oder abstrakte Linien in die Luft malen – Gesten, die der Schwerkraft und der Entropie trotzen. Vor etwa einem Jahr fanden wir uns in einer ehemaligen Zementfabrik wieder, wo Jozef Wouters eine Probe leitete, die sich mit dem Vokabular des Bauens befasste. Innerhalb eines begrenzten Raumes voller Sachen – Stein, Metall, Holz – bat er alle, Dinge emporzuheben. „Hebt etwas auf und entscheidet, ob es Müll ist oder ob es Potenzial für höhere Energie hat. Ihr könnt Dinge ordnen, sie aufrecht hinstellen, sie stapeln, oder sie, wenn nötig, wegwerfen. Geht praktisch an die Sache heran. Es ist, als würde man entweder putzen oder bauen.“ Nach etwa einer Stunde war der Raum voller Kompositionen, sowohl Miniaturen wie auch großen Arrangements. Die nächste Aufgabe war, irgendwo zu sitzen – um die Umgebung von innen heraus zu betrachten, um sie zu bewohnen, sie vielleicht nochmals zu verändern. Wie passt der eigene Körper in diesen Raum? Die Erinnerung an diese Improvisationen bleibt auch während des Lesens eines wunderbaren Essays von Robert Pogue Harrison über die Gärten der Obdachlosen in New York. Diese vergänglichen Gärten sind nicht gerade grüne Oasen, noch wird in ihnen Gemüse angebaut; stattdessen sind sie Kompositionen, die in offenem Gelände aus dem geschaffen werden, was herumliegt – Arrangements von Steinen und Holzstücken, Flitterkram, Blättern und Zweigen, oder vielleicht ein Stofftier, das „den Geist von Pflanzen und Tieren beschwört“. Manche halten sich nur einen Tag. Harrison zufolge wurden Gärten nicht erfunden, um das Überleben zu garantieren. „Der Mensch hat ein ebenso starkes Bedürfnis, die Realität zu verändern, sie mit Kostümen und Illusionen zu schmücken und damit unsere Wahrnehmung der Realität wieder zu einem spirituellen Erlebnis zu machen.“ Gärten geben unserer Beziehung zur Natur eine Ordnung, einen verkörperten Sinn für menschliche Ordnung. Für die Obdachlosen sind ihre Kompositionen nicht so sehr eine Unterkunft, sondern eine Insel der Ruhe, und sie verleihen „einem ansonsten unbegrenzten städtischen Areal menschliche Dimensionen“. Inmitten des unartikulierten urbanen Dschungels sorgen sie für eine Form und markieren ein Gelände, das Sprache, soziale Interaktion und Fürsorge ermöglicht. Wie passt der eigene Körper in diesen Raum?

Die Bilder an der Wand werden jeden Tag neu arrangiert. Sie werden in eine Improvisation hineingezogen oder rituell zerstört, um dann in einer anderen Anordnung wieder aufzuerstehen, vielleicht in Form eines Drachens oder eines Lebensbaums. Zusammen ermöglichen sie uns auch, Szenarien zu entwerfen und von dem entstehenden Werk zu träumen, oder auszuprobieren, wie sich Menschen in bestimmten Umgebungen verhalten würden. Die Reise entlang oder durch diese Fotografien erlaubte uns, uns mit den vielen nomadischen Figuren in ihnen und ihren extremen Reisen zu identifizieren. Vagabunden, Hausbesetzer und Aussteiger, ein Kurier mit Pappkartons, die sich auf seinem Motorrad türmen, Zirkusartisten, Flüchtlinge in einem Gummiboot, ein Astronaut mit einem Fallschirm, eine Frau, die sich als Gebäude verkleidet hat, ein anderer Mann, der einen Felsblock durch die Wüste trägt – ein Tänzer fragt: „Bist du sicher, dass nicht der Stein den Mann trägt?“ Man stelle sich einige dieser Figuren als einen Nomadenstamm vor, der aus der Zukunft in unsere heutige Zeit reist, um seine Kunde zu teilen – die Geschichten, Lieder und Tänze, die seine Form des Zusammenlebens, der Arbeitsteilung, der Fürsorge und Rituale reflektieren. Würden wir die heutige Welt mit anderen Augen betrachten? Würden wir aufgerüttelt, um uns zu sensibilisieren und mit Begegnungsorten und -situationen zu experimentieren? Wären wir in der Lage, unsere Vorstellung der Gegenwart bis an die Grenze des Bekannten zurückzudr.ngen, andere Welten zu betreten und anzufangen, das Fremde in unserer Mitte zu erleben und uns darum zu kümmern?

„Wie möchtest du genannt werden?“ So begrü.en die Aussteiger einander in Cory Doctorows Science-Fiction-Roman „Walkaway“, als explizite Einladung, sich neu zu erfinden – und sowohl ins Gespräch als auch in eine Praxis hineinzufinden. Diese Aussteiger verlassen nicht die Gesellschaft und sind auch nicht autark, doch ihre Praxis ist es, sich von dem zu befreien, was sie die „vorinstallierte Realität“ nennen. „Was ist das systemische Ergebnis des Daseins als Aussteiger?“ – „Ich glaube nicht, dass das schon irgendjemand weiß. Ich freue mich darauf, es herauszufinden.“

In Tom McCarthys Roman „Satin Island“ besuchen zwei Anthropologen die Lagerräume des Anthropologischen Museums in Frankfurt, die Tausende von Gegenständen des Sepik-Stammes in Neuguinea beherbergen. Losgelöst von den undokumentierten Praktiken des Sepik-Volks, werden diese Gegenstände nun nur mit weißen Handschuhen angefasst und verharren so in einer Art Niemandsland. „Was glaubst du, zum Beispiel, fragte sie, öffnete ein weiteres Kabinett und zog eine seltsame Korbkonstruktion hervor, wofür das hier gut ist? Ein Fischernetz, ein zeremonieller Kopfschmuck, ein Schläger für irgendeine Art Spiel, ein Kochgerät... Wer weiß? Wir nicht. Wir werden es nie erfahren. Wir haben die Hälfte von diesem Zeug noch nicht einmal katalogisiert. Was sollen wir damit machen?“ Die Dinge zurückzugeben scheint ebensowenig eine Option zu sein. „Die Nachkommen des Stammes wissen auch nicht, was dieses Korbgeflecht ist; sie haben alle Mobiltelefone und trinken Cola.“ Manchmal fühle sie sich wie in der Schlussszene von „Citizen Kane“, wo „all die Artefakte auf dem Weg ins Feuer sind. Dies, sagte sie und deutete mit ihrem nunmehr schmutzigen Handschuh auf alles um sie herum, ist kein Feuer; aber es ist trotzdem die Vergessenheit.“

Man stelle sich ein Museum der Erfahrungen vor, eine Zeitkapsel, in der Praktiken am Leben erhalten werden. Vielleicht könnte man dort an einer Wiederbelebung ausgestorbener Sprachen und Verhaltensweisen einer anderen Ära teilnehmen. Oder vielleicht könnte man sogar Welten bewohnen, die aus der Zukunft in die heutige Zeit projiziert würden. Es könnte eine Einladung sein, die Sinne einzustimmen und zu schärfen und mit anderen Arten des Empfindens und Wahrnehmens zu experimentieren. Mehr Ausrüstung braucht man für eine solche Reise nicht, sondern eher die Erkenntnis, dass wir selbst Technologie sind, die vergangene und zukünftige Archive verkörpern kann. Nach einer spekulativen Schreib-Session formulierte die Tänzerin Mariana Tengner Barros es so: „Verstehe, dass alles in den Details liegt. Ändere den Maßstab. Verkleinere, um zu beobachten. Wir sind Meister darin, Wahrnehmungspraktiken zu entwickeln, aus unterschiedlichen Stimulationen der Sinne, deren Gültigkeit wir annehmen, und all die anderen, die wir noch nicht benennen und erkennen können. Wir führen unbekannte Tänze aus; wir üben, was wir nicht kennen, mit voller Willenskraft und Hingabe.“

Zwei weitere Bilder, in leuchtendem Gelb und Rot, haben auf der Karte zueinander gefunden. Vor einigen Jahren wurden etliche Hochöfen und Behältnisse, in denen geschmolzenes Eisen transportiert wurde, von der stillgelegten Phoenix West Fabrik in Dortmund nach China verkauft. In einer fernen Zukunft könnten diese ins Ruhrgebiet zurückreisen, in einer verwandelten und ganz anderen Form, und ihre Energie könnte nun in einem feuerspeienden chinesischen Drachen weiterleben, in einer großen Menschenmenge, die tanzt, um sein Stoffgewölbe hoch über ihren Köpfen zu halten mit Stöcke, während sich das Fabeltier immer weiter wälzt und wütet.


Augusto Corrieri, ‘The Rock, The Butterfly, The Moon, and The Cloud: Notes on Dramaturgy in an Ecological Age’, in Konstantina Georgelou, Efrosini Protopapa, Danae Theodoridou (eds.), The Practice of Dramaturgy: Working on Actions in Performance, Amsterdam, 2017, pp. 233-246 Cory Doctorow, Walkaway, New York, 2017.
Robert Pogue Harrison, Gardens. An Essay on the Human Condition, Chicago, 2008.
Barry Lord, Art and Energy. How Culture Changes, Arlington VA, 2014.
Tom McCarthy, Satin Island, London, 2015.

Jun 2017
It’s in the shape of fire

Ruhrtriennale Zeitung
Jeroen Peeters

Dramaturge Jeroen Peeters for the Ruhrtriennale Zeitung

“Theatre is a great place to dream,” says Meg Stuart in the solo Hunter (2014), to then continue her tongue in cheek monologue: “Imagine this place would not always be a theatre.” Just before that she spoke of online creativity as a blueprint for other realities, of the rigid character of architecture and urban spaces that have only one function, of people crossing in the subway or the supermarket but not really meeting one another. “Imagine this theatre would be a place where once a month you give blood. Or where people gather to collectively burn all their Ikea furniture in a ritual statement. Different actions, you know.” I remember spectators responding strongly to this proposal to imagine the theatre otherwise and discussing their own ideas in the foyer after the show. Perhaps that was the first spark – a collective dream spilling out of the theatre and slowly dispersing itself, carried by all the people present.

How do we envision theatres and other art spaces today and tomorrow? How do we shape these places of encounter, these laboratories for living together? During the past years these questions have been recurring in our conversations – with choreographer Meg Stuart and scenographer Jozef Wouters, and with many others collaborating on Projecting [Space[. During one month the company Damaged Goods will work on location in the Zentralwerkstatt Lohberg in Dinslaken, transforming it into a temporary environment for imagining and experimenting with collective practices of meeting and making – and for sharing these activities with others.

Browsing through my notebook I’m struck by the many references to heat recorded during rehearsals. We did spend some time in cold industrial buildings, but then the transformation of energy also became a research topic in its own right, with a variety of resources gathered to feed the smoldering bonfire that is a rehearsal process. Always interested in the beauty of precarious structures, it’s Jozef Wouters who conjured up this image: “For me a bonfire is about building something that you plan to burn – it doesn’t need to be sturdy or last for years. Setting something ablaze means to consume it, to expend it. There is an aspect of hedonism in that. And as the fire burns the construction grows invisble and smaller, and then the circle of people around it becomes smaller too, until everyone sits down and eats marshmallows together.”

In rehearsal we discussed the impact of energy sources on cultural production, but quickly moved away from wood and coal to what drives bodies dancing, sensing, witnessing. “What about the energies of healing practices? Or the heat of a large group of bodies at a rave party? How can we catalyze the energy of the audience? Is sensitivity an energy source? And fiction?”

Imagine a group of highly sensitive bodies entering a former mining factory. What if these bodies would softly brush up against a concrete floor? Would they become site-specific? Material and spatial conditions would be partners in the conversation, an encounter of heterogeneous surfaces and desires – human bodies, machines, wood, stone and cloth, remote urban clamour or a beam of light. Perhaps it would manifest in abstract lines or in slow, unison dances. Or maybe in stirring attention for the smallest particles when someone blows a handful of dust across the room. What would these meetings tell us about transformation of energy, or about relations of care?

Jun 2017
Statt Werkstatt
[ German ]
Ruhrtriennale Zeitung
Jeroen Peeters

Dramaturg Jeroen Peeters für Ruhrtriennale Zeitung

„Das Theater ist ein wunderbarer Ort zum Träumen“, sagt Meg Stuart in ihrer Soloaufführung „Hunter“, die vor drei Jahren herauskam, um gleich etwas ironisch fortzufahren: „Stell dir vor, dieser Ort wäre nicht immer ein Theater.“

Nicht immer ein Theater. Zuvor hatte Meg Stuart bereits von Online-Kreativität gesprochen als Vorbild für andere Formen von Wirklichkeit; von der rigiden Natur der Architektur und des Stadtbilds, die nur eine einzige Funktion haben; von Leuten, deren Wege sich in der U-Bahn oder im Supermarkt kreuzen, die sich aber nicht wirklich begegnen. „Stell dir vor, dieses Theater wäre ein Ort, wo die Leute einmal im Monat Blut spenden. Oder wo Menschen zusammenkommen, um gemeinsam all ihre Ikea-Möbel zu verbrennen, in einer Art von rituellem Statement. Ganz verschiedene Aktionen.“

Ich erinnere mich, wie stark das Publikum auf diesen Vorschlag reagierte, sich sein Theater anders vorzustellen, und wie die Menschen im Foyer nach der Vorstellung ihre eigenen Ideen diskutierten. Vielleicht war das der erste Funke: ein kollektiver Traum, der aus dem Theater hinausfloss und sich langsam verbreitete, getragen von all den Anwesenden.

Wie stellen wir uns Theater und andere Kunsträume heute und morgen vor? Wie gestalten wir diese Begegnungsstätten, diese Laboratorien unseres Zusammenlebens? Während der vergangenen Jahre sind diese Fragen in unseren Gesprächen immer wieder aufgetaucht – mit der Choreografin Meg Stuart und dem Bühnenbildner Jozef Wouters und mit vielen anderen, die nun an „Projecting [Space[“ mitarbeiteten. Einen Monat lang wird die Theatergruppe Damaged Goods vor Ort in der Zentralwerkstatt Lohberg in Dinslaken arbeiten und diese verwandeln in einen Raum, eine Umgebung für Vorstellungskraft und für Experimente mit kollektiven Praktiken der Begegnung und der Produktion – und wo diese Aktivitäten auch mit anderen geteilt werden sollen.

Bei Durchsicht meiner Notizen fällt mir auf, wie oft während der ersten Probenphasen auf Hitze Bezug genommen wurde. Wir haben zugegebenermaßen viel Zeit in kalten Industriegebäuden verbracht, aber die Umwandlung von Energie wurde auch ein eigenes Recherchethema, zu dem wir viel gesammelt haben, um damit das schwelende Lagerfeuer, das so ein Probenprozess ist, anzufeuern.

Jozef Wouters, der sich schon immer für die Schönheit prekärer Strukturen interessiert hat, fand dieses Bild dafür: „Für mich ist der Sinn eines Lagerfeuers, dass man etwas aufbaut, das man vorhat zu verbrennen – es muss nicht stabil sein oder Jahre halten. Etwas anzuzünden bedeutet, es zu konsumieren, es zu verbrauchen. Das hat einen hedonistischen Aspekt. Je länger das Feuer brennt, desto unsichtbarer und kleiner wird die Konstruktion, und dann wird auch die Gruppe von Leuten, die darum herumsitzen, kleiner, bis alle zusammenhocken und Stockbrot essen.“

Bei den Proben diskutierten wir den Einfluss von Energiequellen auf kulturelle Produktion. Nicht so sehr von Holz und Kohle, sondern von dem, was Körper dazu antreibt zu tanzen, wahrzunehmen, zu beobachten. „Wie steht es um die Energie von Heilpraktiken? Oder die Hitze einer großen Anzahl von Körpern bei einer Rave-Party? Wie können wir die Energie des Publikums steigern? Ist Empfindsamkeit eine Energiequelle? Und Fiktion?“

Man stelle sich eine Gruppe von hochsensiblen Körpern vor, die eine ehemalige Bergwerksfabrik betreten. Was passiert, wenn diese Körper sanft über einen Betonboden streifen? Würden sie dadurch ortsbezogen? Die Bedingungen von Material und Raum würden zu Partnern in dieser Begegnung von unterschiedlichen Oberflächen und Begehrlichkeiten – menschliche Körper, Maschinen, Holz, Stein und Stoff, ferner Stadtlärm oder ein Lichtstrahl.

Vielleicht würde sie sich zeigen in abstrakten Linien oder in langsamen Tänzen im Gleichschritt. Oder vielleicht in anrührender Aufmerksamkeit für die kleinsten Teilchen, wenn jemand eine Handvoll Staub durch den Raum pustet. Was würden diese Begegnungen uns über die Umwandlung von Energie sagen, und über Beziehungen der Fürsorge?

Übersetzung: Alexa Nieschlag

02 Sep 2017
"Projecting Space" bei der Ruhrtriennale: Mission mit Zweifeln
[ German ]
Nicole Strecker

Ihr Thema ist der traumatisierte Körper. Bei der Ruhrtriennale fragt die Choreographin Meg Stuart nun nach der zerstörerischen Rolle des Menschen in der Geschichte. In der stillgelegten Zechenruine Lohberg in Dinslaken schaffen ihre Tänzer Bilder von großer Wucht – mal Scherz, mal Schrecken.

Wer ein guter Ruhrtriennale-Künstler sein will, pflanzt nicht einfach eine Bühnenproduktion in eine der schnieke restaurierten Industriehallen des Ruhrgebiets, die mit dekorativ verrosteten Maschinengiganten von der alten dreckigen Kohlenförderzeit künden wie ein schöner-Wohnen-Magazin.

Nein, ein guter Ruhrtriennale-Künstler erschließt eine echt-verwahrloste Industriebrache neu und watet gemeinsam mit seinem Publikum durch Pfützen und Geröll. Und zu wem passt das Kaputte, Schäbige besser als zu Choreografin Meg Stuart und ihrer Kompanie mit dem allessagenden Namen "Damaged Goods", beschädigte Ware?

Sie schickt ihre Tänzer nun los als seien sie ein Trüppchen Aliens und lässt sie die längst verlassene Werkstatt der Zeche Lohberg erobern. Es beginnt draußen. Auftritt eines Gabelstaplers und eines Baggers. Auf dessen Schaufel baumelt jeweils ein Tänzer. Die schweren Maschinen heben mit behutsamer Langsamkeit die schlaffen Körper in die Luft, als hätten sie sie geborgen. Anrührend ist das, und komisch. Der Mensch – ein Fremdkörper. Und wie Fremde von einem anderen Stern werden die Tänzer danach in der 2000 Quadratmeter großen Halle mit dem Publikum Kontakt aufnehmen. In Stuart-typischen, absichtsvoll unvorteilhaft geschnittenen Silber-Glitzer-Outfits strecken sie den Zuschauern ihre Hände entgegen, legen - ein bisschen wie ET - Fingerspitzen auf Fingerspitzen zum freundlichen Erstkontakt, während doch zugleich der Sound von Vincent Malstaf und Klaus Janek zum unheilvollen Dröhnen anschwillt und in einer Ecke der Halle eine riesige Gummireifen-Schaukel bedrohlich kreiselt wie auf einem Horrorspielplatz.

"Projecting Space" - jeder Raum, den der Mensch in seiner Geschichte betreten hat, den hat er auch verändert, nicht selten zerstört, mindestens aber zivilisiert. So unterteilt Bühnenbildner Jozef Wouters die ramponierte Riesen-Halle mit einem meterlangen Regalsystem, als wolle er kleinteilige Ordnung in die einschüchternde Weitläufigkeit des Raumes bringen.

Die Tänzer klettern darin mit affengleichem Wagemut in schwindelnde Höhen. Sie knubbeln sich zum ekstatischen Pogodancing. Und was erst nach Spaß aussieht, wird immer ruppiger bis sich schließlich die Bilder der Duisburger Loveparade aufdrängen, als die Menschen aus der lebensbedrohlichen Enge verzweifelt nach oben zu klettern versuchten.

Raumnot, Raumnahme, Raumvisionen. Meg Stuart umkreist in ihrer grandiosen Tanzperformance das Assoziationsfeld mit Bildern, die immer verstörend widersprüchlich bleiben, immer trügerisch vom Scherz in den Schrecken und wieder zurückkippen. Hier geht es um mehr als eine getanzte Architektur-Annexion. Hier verwirbeln sich Evolution, Historie und Science-Fiction, und vor allem geht es um den Zustand unserer Zeit.

So dräuen natürlich auch die weltweiten Migrationsbewegungen, dräut die Flüchtlingsdebatte im konzeptuellen Hintergrund. Dann tanzen etwa die Performer in Soli mit solcher Dringlichkeit das Publikum an, als wollten sie von ihrer persönlichen Geschichte erzählen. Doch ihre eigenartigen Gestenfolgen kann niemand verstehen. Das interkulturelle Kommunikationsdefizit als peinigende Chaos-Choreografie. Hospitalisierende Bewegungsloops, zum Schrei aufgerissene Münder, Krallenhände, Zuckungen. Ein Grauen echot in den Körpern dieser Fremden, das unbegreiflich bleibt, und der Zuschauer nur ein hilfloser Katastrophen-Voyeur.

Das konnte Meg Stuart schon immer überragend gut, und die Wucht dieser Szenen wird nicht mal dadurch gemildert, dass aufs Trauma die Therapie folgt: In einer langen Sequenz exerziert Meg Stuart ihr Repertoire an Antidepressiva kunstvoll durch - vom Urschrei über die kollektive Tai-Chi-Versenkung bis zum kunsttherapeutischen Herumpusten mit rosa Kreidestaub; so penetrant paradiesisch, dass es fast schon wieder ironisch wird. Es gilt die Menschheit nicht nur zu richten, sondern auch zu retten – wirklich? In dieser clever-ungeheuren Arbeit von Meg Stuart eben doch eine Mission mit Zweifel.

01 Sep 2017
Ruhrtriennale: Projecting [Space[ überzeugt in Dinslaken
[ German ]
Bettina Schack

Meg Stuart erschafft im Rahmen der Ruhrtriennale in Zentalwerkstatt bewegte Kunst-Installationen aus Orten und Kulissen, Tänzern und Zuschauern.

Ein Bagger dreht sich um seine eigene Achse, der Mensch auf der ausgefahrenen Schaufel scheint ihn zu umkreisen wie der Mond, der über diesem Szenario scheint, die Erde umkreist. Etwas weiter auf der Brache zwischen Lohbergkorso und Grubengas-BHKW tanzen ein junger Mann und ein Gabelstapler in Zeitlupe ein Pas de deux. Dazwischen fährt ein Paar in Badekleidung Mountainbike.

150 Besucher der diesjährigen Ruhrtriennalen-Premiere in Lohberg stehen und sitzen zwischen der Stahl und Holzkonstruktion, die Jozef Wouters vor den Eingang zur Zentalwerkstatt gebaut hat und lassen die surrealen Bilder auf sich wirken.

Kein klassisches Tanztheater sondern Körper kinetischer Kunstinstallationen
Meg Stuart hat mit Projecting [Space[ kein klassisches Tanztheaterstück geschaffen, sondern lässt die Mitglieder ihrer Tanzkompanie Damaged Goods in Interaktion mit dem gegebenen und den Wouters geschaffenen Räumen, mit vor Ort erzeugten und gesampelten Klängen zu beweglichen Körpern kinetischer Kunstinstallationen werden.

Dazu gehört es, sich zu organischen Figuren in endlosen Regalen in der Zentralwerkstatt zu verdichten ebenso wie die eigenen Hände und deren Beweglichkeit und Kraft als vom Ich losgelöste Macht zu erleben – mit aller Verzweiflung, mit der ein Mensch auf diese Losgelöstheit des eigenen Körpers vom Ich in krampfhaften Zuckungen und panischer Miene reagieren kann.

In einigen Szenen gibt es Längen
Zwei Stunden dauert Projecting [Space[, in einigen Szenen gibt es Längen, zumal die Bewegungen rauh und oft unausgeformt bleiben, das spürbare tänzerische Potenzial nicht für künstlich ästhetisierte Bewegungsabläufe genutzt wird.

Aber es gibt poetische Momente und Bilder wie den Fallschirm-„Flug“ entlang eines riesigen Vorhangs mit Himmelsmotiv, die rosa Wolken, in denen die Darsteller von Luft und Erde träumen, der Duft des Kaffeepulvers, aus dem sie archaische (oder futuristische, wer mag das zu deuten) Zeichen auf den Boden der Zentralwerkstatt streuen.

Herausragendes Merkmal: Einbeziehung des Publikums
Herausragendes Merkmal von Projecting [Space[ aber ist die Einbeziehung des Publikums in alle Aspekte der Inszenierung. Die 150 Zuschauer erkunden mit dem Ensemble die Spiel-Räume der Zentralwerkstatt, von den erwähnten Regalen bis zur kompletten Holzarena. Sie durchmessen den Raum, bleiben wie die Tänzer in Bewegung, werden von diesen sogar aufgefordert, mitzumachen. Wer beobachtet wen? Die Grenzen verschwimmen.

Beeindruckend der Schluss, in dem das Ensemble einschließlich Choreographin Meg Stuart zu einer Klangcollage tanzt, die nicht nur von der Sängerin und Tänzerin Mariana Tengner Barros und ihren Partnern geflüstert, gesungen und geschrien wird, sondern für die auch Laut-Ideen des Publikums gesampelt werden.

Und zum Schluss trifft man sich ganz entspannt draußen am Lagerfeuer zu langem, warmen Applaus.

07 Sep 2017
Ruhrtriennale: Projecting [Space[, émouvant mystère de Meg Stuart
[ French ]
Dominique Adrian

Dans un espace scénique pour le moins atypique, Meg Stuart fait naître une poésie impalpable.

Le brutal déclin industriel de la Ruhr a laissé un héritage immobilier aussi démesuré que difficile: la culture est très vite apparue comme un moyen de redonner un avenir à la région, en assumant l’héritage plutôt qu’en recourant uniquement à la démolition. De nombreux halls d’usine et autres sites industriels ont donc été convertis en parcs, en musées, en salles de spectacle. La plupart, cependant, sont restés à l’abandon, et la Ruhrtriennale, fer de lance de cette ambition culturelle depuis 2002, a pour vocation de sortir des sentiers battus du nouveau tourisme culturel: Johan Simons, pour la troisième et dernière année de son mandat, a confié à la chorégraphe Meg Stuart les ateliers de la mine de Lohberg à Dinslaken, fermée en 2005.

Le spectacle commence devant le bâtiment: deux danseurs en plein trip hippie s’extraient des entrailles d’une automobile-maison, deux autres circulent à vélo en petite tenue, d’autres sont happés par des engins de chantier, corps passifs manipulés par la machine: prologue non sans mystère, et non sans poésie, à la suite duquel le public entre dans la halle, équipée d’échafaudages qui vont tantôt servir de sièges pour le public et tantôt d’espaces pour les huit remarquables danseurs de la compagnie de Meg Stuart, Damaged Goods.

Des marchandises abîmées, les corps des danseurs? C’est l’une des pistes de lecture de la pièce: les ouvriers qui ont travaillé sur ce site et d’autres ne viennent guère à la Ruhrtriennale, mais leur souvenir est ainsi présent – le corps des danseurs, après tout, est lui aussi un corps torturé, fût-il à l’occasion mis à nu dans toute son innocence. Les spectateurs sont menés d’un bout à l’autre de la halle, devant parfois laisser la place à une tentative de parapente à l’horizontale, entrant parfois en contact pour de fragiles interactions avec les danseurs, et devant souvent se faire leur propre parcours entre leurs trajectoires individuelles, au risque de passer à côté de tel ou tel moment du spectacle. Cette abstraction a quelque chose de musical dans sa structure, et c’est sans doute ce qui en fait toute la poésie. Stuart ne se prive pas des beautés sensuelles du corps en mouvement – de la danse dans son acception commune –, pas plus qu’elle ne renonce à une certaine théâtralité – la scène où des danseurs dessinent à l’aide de poudres colorées des formes mystérieuses, comme une géographie secrète, est ouverte à toutes les associations d’idées et de sensations.

Il n’y a rien de très nouveau dans la remise en cause de la frontalité et de la linéarité du spectacle de danse ou de théâtre; le souci de rapprocher parfois jusqu’au tête à tête artistes et spectateurs ne l’est pas vraiment non plus, mais Meg Stuart ne se contente pas de s’en servir avec virtuosité: la pièce fait naître une émotion croissante qu’on s’explique difficilement. Meg Stuart, nonobstant les quelques pistes évoquées dans le programme, se dispense d’une assise thématique, d’un ancrage explicite dans tel contexte ou tel aspect du monde contemporain.

Le finale, par contraste, met en scène les huit danseurs (et Meg Stuart elle-même, qui se joint souvent à eux) en une véritable collectivité, en une sorte de scène de music-hall divertissante mais un peu vaine. Peutêtre, à vrai dire, cette vanité est-elle volontaire: les danseurs quittent ensuite la halle, entraînant le public avec eux; on les retrouve en cercle devant un beau feu de bois, et quand les spectateurs commencent à applaudir, les danseurs les imitent. Il y a là une atmosphère primitive bien différente des clichés de la scène précédente, mais également une autre forme de communauté et de communion rituelle: la remarquable tribu des danseurs de Stuart n’a pas livré ses secrets, mais elle nous est devenue précieuse.

05 Sep 2017
Meg Stuart with Jozef Wouters at Ruhrtriennale: self-igniting spectacle

De Morgen
Pieter T'Jonck

At the end of March, the Molenbeek workshop of scenographer-artist Jozef Wouters played host to Atelier III. During that happening, Meg Stuart, Jeroen Peeters and Wouters tested what a ‘future’ theatre of the imagination might look like. Projecting [Space[, the hallucinatory apotheosis of that quest, was subsequently shown at the Ruhrtriennale.

Dinslaken: a grey city that is filled with countless visible traces of the long-departed steel and mining industries. Johan Simons played Accattone there two years ago, in a huge hall that is now half demolished. In this stony wasteland, Stuart, Peeters and Wouters, together with eight performers and two musicians, set up camp in and around the ruined brick warehouses.

Their performance begins outside, on the paved surface surrounding the building. A couple transform their car into a kind of carnival wagon. Another pair, wearing swimsuits, ride in circles on mountain bikes that are far too small. Poised in the background are two men with a forklift truck and an earth-mover. Others hang on to the machine, or crawl into the digger’s bucket. Sounds assail you from every direction, ranging from dub reggae and soundscapes to simple songs. Passers-by watch the strange, indefinable spectacle from a distance.

A TV-screen full of trinkets
The occupants of the car then lead the audience into the cavernous machine hall where the impressive scale of the building finally becomes visible. Viewed only from the outside up until that point, it had been consumed by the vast surrounding emptiness. The hall is crammed with equipment, most noticeably an abundance of robust, towering racks. In the first half of the building, there is barely a metre between them. Further on, they are used to create a semi-circular seating tribune. At the entrance, sounds emanate from a tractor tyre that spins aimlessly round on chains. In another spot, there is an embellished TV screen, filled with trinkets. And so it goes on, seemingly without end. It transcends immediate comprehension. The wet dream of children who’ve carried home everything little thing that has captured their imagination.

Between those racks, the performers, complemented by Meg Stuart herself, seek contact with the people via gestures and touches. Many participate in this opening rite. Only afterwards do the performers develop their own rituals. For what other word can be used to describe the strange gestures they make, and which invariably hover between tics, secret signs and a group dance? A ‘collective celebration of personal obsessions or fantasy dreams’? Maybe. Many of the subsequent scenes seem to share mutual relationships, but these frequently overlap and are also supplemented by the voices of the performers, who talk about their experiences. It is impossible to follow everything at once. It is overwhelming.

Naked between the viewers
The only certainty is that the performers not only dream, but that their dreams become ever more indulgent. For example, Jorge De Hoyos, running as fast as he can, tries to take-off with a parachute. Mor Demer, who is naked, suddenly darts between the viewers. Sonja Pregrad, Roberto Martinez and Márcio Kerber do things with pigments, coffee and paint. Sigal Zouk and Renan Martins, who dance almost continuously, provide the piece with a baseline. And Mariana Tengner is, to all extents and purposes, the master of ceremonies. Meanwhile, the double bass and electronic sounds of Klaus Janek and Vincent Malstaf reverberate throughout the proceedings.

What this means, if anything at all, is not the point (any longer). Projecting [Space[ is a quest for what might happen when people come together for one reason, and one reason only: the experience itself. Whether you join in or not, that’s your decision. But no one in Dinslaken could resist the enchantment of the giant campfire at the end. This temporary construction, destined only to consume itself, was the perfect symbol for this work: an intense experience that disappears with the visitors who gave it form.

Aug 2017
It’s in the shape of fire

Jeroen Peeters

Program booklet

“Theatre is a great place to dream,” says Meg Stuart in the solo “Hunter” (2014), to then continue her tongue in cheek monologue: “Imagine this place would not always be a theatre.” Just before that she spoke of online creativity as a blueprint for other realities, of the rigid character of architecture and urban spaces that have only one function, of people crossing in the subway or the supermarket but not really meeting one another. “Imagine this theatre would be a place where once a month you give blood. Or where people gather to collectively burn all their Ikea furniture in a ritual statement. Different actions, you know.” I remember spectators responding strongly to this proposal to imagine the theatre otherwise and discussing their own ideas in the foyer after the show. Perhaps that was the first spark – a collective dream spilling out of the theatre and slowly dispersing itself, carried by all the people present.
How do we envision theatres and other art spaces today and tomorrow? How do we shape these places of encounter, these laboratories for living together? During the past years these ques-tions have been recurring in our conversations – with choreographer Meg Stuart and scenographer Jozef Wouters, and with many others collaborating on “Projecting [Space[”. During the month of August 2017 the dance company Damaged Goods works on loca-tion in the Zentralwerkstatt Lohberg in Dinslaken, transforming it into a temporary environment for imagining and experimenting with collective practices of meeting and making.
These notes are inspired by the research and rehearsals towards “Projecting [Space[”, yet they were written before our arrival in Dinslaken – except for occasional location visits. They’re not quite a user’s guide, rather notes on issues that occupy us, notes that are in limbo. They address various transformations of energy, ecstatic encounters and care for the unfamiliar – all of it through a gamut of materials that were gathered to feed the smouldering bonfire that is a rehearsal process.
Always interested in the beauty of precarious structures, it’s Jozef Wouters who conjured up this image: “For me a bonfire is about building something that you plan to burn – it doesn’t need to be sturdy or last for years. Setting something ablaze means to consume it, to expend it. There is an aspect of hedonism in that. And as the fire burns the construction grows invisible and smaller, and then the circle of people around it becomes smaller too, until everyone sits down and eats marshmallows together.”

One wall of the studio is covered with images collected by all the collaborators. An arrangement of blue and red-brown images shows a body lying flat on an asphalt road, next to a huge land-scape grazed bare by bulldozers; and below that an underground parking lot that leads to a fantastic grotto with a shimmering light at the end. More worlds can be imagined underneath, perhaps reaching 1.2 kilometres deep – like the shafts and corridors left in Dinslaken-Lohberg by the mining industry. Once the coal excavated and burned in the Ruhr area spurred on a whole industry and culture of workers and production, while society and cultural patterns are now defined by different energy sources as fossil fuels are quickly running out.
If particular energy sources have a profound impact on the cul-tural production of a certain era, then what will the future look like? In “Art and Energy”, Barry Lord explores how cultural values are linked to energy sources that became available to us throughout the ages – from sexual and kinetic energy, to fire and cooperation, to nuclear power. In the studio, we picked up his speculations around renewable energy and a “culture of stewardship” that devo-tes more attention to our bodies and to the Earth. Our discussion quickly moved away from wood and coal to what drives bodies dancing, sensing, witnessing. “What about the energies of healing practices? Or the heat of a large group of bodies at a rave party? How can we catalyze the energy of the audience? Is sensitivity an energy source? And fiction?”

After having seen a documentary on gem stones and crystals, Márcio Kerber Canabarro, one of the dancers, told us they are born under a lot of pressure. What would it be like to harvest a crystal? Imagine the almost endless amount of time and pressure required to arrive at such a precise shape and substance. Or imagine the yet unborn fossils, minerals and crystals that carry traces of our time into a distant future. “They’re future ancient beings, a conscious-ness that will last long after we are all gone, when all organic forms will be depleted.”

Pushed to the side of the studio wall, there are some photos of dis-used industrial buildings, abandoned amusement parks and shopping malls, or derelict world fair pavilions and Olympic sports stadiums. Modern ruins devoid of human presence. What do the glossy photos of these imploded dreams tell us? The so -called ‘ruin porn’ imagery of former car factories and all manner of modern cathedrals in Detroit is mostly geared towards sensation and consumption. Economic crisis and the social dramas it entails, are drained from these images, which don’t invite a critical view. Do we perhaps need different images to practice alternative ways of looking at what produced these ruins?
The many disused coal and steel factories in the Ruhr area are in a sense giant rehearsal spaces. Some are in actuality converted into environments used for very different purposes, including the per-forming arts. They’re all attempts to give these buildings new func-tions and destinations, and, for the people who used to work there, to imagine their lives differently. Art comes in as a guardian of experiment and imagination, in a community’s probing of alternative ways to approach labour, food, education, gathering, ritual, etc. And not to forget: leisure, rest, protest, even laziness – also ‘not-doing’ are ways of doing that require attention.
Along with the interest in industrial archaeology, the reconversion of these factory buildings also provides training spaces in another sense. In the future, there will be new and other disused buil-dings awaiting new purposes. Imagine all those abandoned airports in the not-so-distant-future beyond peak oil – what will we do with them? Turn them into museums of modernity? Or will they, now hubs for impersonal and swift mobility, in the post-labour society become spots for lingering? Gym spaces for people to keep their atrophied bodies in shape when drones and robots do all the work? Environments for gathering, encounter and ritual? Imagine all the behaviours and lifestyles that could be practiced in such a space.

Also theatre buildings fall to ruin, even though the time of decay eludes the attention and imagination of us, theatre visitors. And yet, long before the forest takes over the debris of a derelict theatre, the elements are already fully alive in there. “How to be present to an event that does not address us? How can we attend to events and phenomena that lay beyond the senses?” In search of answers, the artist Augusto Corrieri follows a mosquito circling around the head of an actor and gets distracted from the play. Or he wonders how we can look at a theatre also as an actual stone building. Suddenly, the background shifts to the foreground, non-human agents and different temporalities come into play. In an essay, he concludes: “Courtesy of ecological catastrophe and anthropogenic climate change, an irrevocable shift in perspective has suddenly im-posed itself: the outside has burst inside the auditorium; or rather, we are only now realizing that the outside has always been inside.”
In another reversal of sorts, in a rehearsal Meg Stuart asked the dancers to read the landscape while the landscape is reading them at the same time. “Your body is highly sensitive, your limbs are like antennas. You’re tracing lines of connection – to the things in front of you, but also to the energy around, to presences that are not visible.” Imagine such an encounter in which the space is reading you whilst you are watching. Or imagine your highly sensitive body brushing up against the concrete floor of a former mining factory. Would your body become site-specific? Would material and spatial conditions become partners in the conversation, in this encounter of heterogeneous surfaces and desires? Imagine your attention to the smallest particles being stirred when someone blows a handful of dust across the room.

To the right, the photos climb higher up the studio wall. They follow the dynamics of the people in the images constructing spaces with wooden frames, organising things or drawing abstract lines in the air – gestures that defy gravity and entropy.
About a year ago, we found ourselves in a former cement factory, where Jozef Wouters guided a rehearsal around the vocabulary of building. In a delimited space full of stuff – stone, metal, wood – he asked everyone to elevate things. “Pick up something and decide whether it is waste or whether it has a higher energy potential. You can order things, put them upright, stack them, or throw them out if needed. Go about it in a practical manner. It’s like cleaning versus building.” After an hour or so, the space was full of compositions, both miniatures and large arrangements. The next task was to sit somewhere – to look at the environment from within, to inhabit it, perhaps to transform it yet again. How does your body fit in this space?
The memory of these improvisations lingers on whilst reading a wonderful essay by Robert Pogue Harrison on the gardens of homeless people in New York City. These transitory gardens are not exactly a green oasis, nor made for growing vegetables; rather, they’re compositions made in open spaces with stuff at hand – arrangements of stones and wood, trinkets, leaves and branches, or perhaps a stuffed animal that “conjures up the spirit of plant and animal life.” Some last only for a day. According to Harrison, gardens didn’t come into being for reasons of survival. “There is an equally fundamental craving in human beings to transfigure reality, to adorn it with costume and illusion, and thereby to respiritualize our experience of it.”
Gardens give order to our relation to nature, an embodied sense of human order. For the homeless, their compositions create not so much shelter but a pocket of repose and give “human dimensions to an otherwise unbounded urban expanse.” They introduce form in the inarticulate urban jungle and mark off an area in which speech, social intercourse and care become possible. How does your body fit in this space?

The images on the wall are rearranged every day. They’re pulled into an improvisation or ritually destroyed, to then rise again in a different order, taking on the form of a dragon or a tree of life. Together they also enable us to create scenarios and dream about the work in the making, or to explore how people would behave in certain environments. Travelling along and through those photographs, we could identify with the many nomadic figures in them and their extreme journeys. Vagabonds, squatters and walkaways, a delivery man with cardboard packages stacked high on his motorcycle, circus artists, refugees in a rubber boat, an astronaut with a parachute, a woman disguised as a building, another man carrying a boulder across the desert – a dancer asks, “are you sure it’s not the stone carrying the man?”
Imagine some of these figures form a nomadic tribe that would travel from the future to today’s time to share their lore – the stories, songs and dances that reflect their ways of living together, of practicing labour, care and ritual. Would we be able to understand their reports about the future state of things? Would we look at today’s world with different eyes? Would we be spurred on to sen-sitize ourselves and experiment with spaces and situations of encounter? Would we be able to push our imagination of the present to the edge of the familiar, approach other worlds and begin to experience and care for the foreign in our midst?

“What do you want to be called?” That’s how walkaways greet one another in Cory Doctorow’s sci -fi novel “Walkaway”, as an explicit invitation to remake yourself – and to enter into conversation as much as into practice. These walkaways are not walking out on society nor living off the grid, but they’re practicing to free them-selves of what they call ‘default reality’. “What’s the systemic outcome of being a walkaway?” – “I don’t think anyone knows yet. It’s going to be fun finding out.”

In Tom McCarthy’s novel “Satin Island”, two anthropologists visit the storage space of the anthropology museum in Frankfurt, which holds thousands of objects of the Sepik people in New Guinea. Detached from the undocumented practices of the Sepik, these objects are now only touched with white gloves and remain in limbo. “What do you think, for example, she asked, opening another cabinet and pulling out a strange wicker contraption, this thing is for? A fishing net; ceremonial head-gear; a bat for playing some kind of game; a cooking implement… Who knows? We don’t. We won’t. We haven’t even catalogued half this stuff. What should we do with it?” Returning things doesn’t appear to be an option either. “The tribe’s descendants don’t know what this wicker thing is for either; they’ve all got mobile phones and drink Coke.” Sometimes she feels like she’s in the final scene of “Citizen Kane”, all “the artefacts heading for the fire. This, she said, sweeping her now-dirty glove around once more, isn’t fire; but it’s oblivion all the same.”

Imagine a museum of experience, a time capsule in which practices are kept alive. Perhaps you could partake in the revival of extinct languages and practices of another era. Or perhaps you could even inhabit worlds projected from the future into today’s time. It might be an invitation to tune and hone your sensorium, experiment with ways of feeling and perceiving differently. It’s not more equipment you’d need for such a journey, rather the realisation that we are technology ourselves, open to embodying past and future archives.
After a speculative writing session, dancer Mariana Tengner Barros said it this way: “Understand that everything is in the detail. Change the scale. Minimize to observe. We develop, as masters, practices of perception, from different stimuli of the senses that we accept as valid and all the others for which we still do not have a name or form. We practice unknown dances, we practice what we don’t know with full will and dedication.”

Two more images with bright yellow and red colours have landed side by side in the map. A few years ago, several blast furnaces and containers to transport molten iron from the disused Phoenix West factory in Dortmund were sold and shipped to China. In a distant future they might travel back to the Ruhr area, transformed and embodied in an altogether different shape, their energy now contained in a fire-spitting Chinese dragon, with a large group of people dancing to hold up its cloth canopy high above their heads with sticks as the fabulous beast keeps on snaking and fuming.


Augusto Corrieri, ‘The Rock, The Butterfly, The Moon, and The Cloud: Notes on Dramaturgy in an Ecological Age’, in Konstantina Georgelou, Efrosini Protopapa, Danae Theodoridou (eds.), The Practice of Dramaturgy: Working on Actions in Performance, Amsterdam, 2017, pp. 233-246 Cory Doctorow, Walkaway, New York, 2017.
Robert Pogue Harrison, Gardens. An Essay on the Human Condition, Chicago, 2008.
Barry Lord, Art and Energy. How Culture Changes, Arlington VA, 2014.
Tom McCarthy, Satin Island, London, 2015.

04 May 2017
Jusqu'à l'arrêt cardiaque
[ French ]
Gérard Mayen

Meg Stuart orchestre une très grande pièce, qui déferle au-delà des attentes et du convenu.

Deux heures bien bon. Mais Until our Hearts Stop pourrait durer bien plus encore. Ne jamais finir. Sinon par arrêt cardiaque, comme le suggère le titre de cette dernière pièce de Meg Stuart. Until our Hearts Stop nous a frappé, soulevé, voire enthousiasmé. Or huit jours plus tard, à l'heure d'écrire sur ce spectacle, on n'en a plus un souvenir si net. Nous serions-nous laissé abuser par un effet juste passager ?

Non. Until our Hearts Stop est tout de cette matière, très plastique, extensible, débordante et non bornée. Un nombre insensé d'actions s'y produit, performées par un effectif respectable de six danseur.ses et comédien.nes, et trois musicien.nes (ceux-ci volontiers mêlés à ceux-là, dans une atmosphère tendant au punk par moments). Mais, plutôt que le catalogue détaillé d'incessantes péripéties – fussent-elles souvent hautes en couleur – c'est une dynamique d'ensemble et de fond, qui s'attache à cette pièce, ne ressemblant à aucune autre.

Bloc de corps
Elle se déroule dans un cadre chic et pop, années 1970, à l'image architecturale de la grande salle du Théâtre de Nanterre-Amandiers, qui l'accueille. Vastitude, plateau assez lointain, caissons en hauteur et dégagements en pourtour. Gigantesque tombée de tissu couleur prune, sur moquette de même teinte, percée d'une découpe d'aire de jeu aussi scintillante que parallélépipédique (mais rien n'empêchant de se répandre un peu partout au-delà de ce périmètre).

Se répandre ? C'est le mot. Au sens de s'égayer. En volumes. En échappées. En courses. Tout un grand début de la pièce a la consistance d'un ballet de danse contact au ralenti, montrant ses pauses plutôt que ses élans. Les performers viennent se caler l'un contre l'autre, à l'arrêt. Je donne tout de mon poids pour mieux soutenir celui de mon partenaire. En contre-poids. Ça s'encastre, bloc de corps contre segment de membre. Ça s'élabore. Voire s'emberlificote. Se multiplie. Et cela implique de plus en plus de partenaires, par agencements passant aux limites.

Doit-on le dire de façon savante – déconstruction et déterritorialisation – ou triviale, genre cul par-dessus tête ? La sensualité s'incorpore dans des déteintes à se bouffer le cul, se renifler l'aisselle, se dévorer de succions et morsures. Cela déferle contre les dispositifs de la sexualité. Mais jusqu'où cela va-t-il pouvoir aller ? Est-ce que ça va vouloir s'arrêter ? Toute une graduation, de l'incongru à l'invraisemblable, de l'anomalie à l'extraordinaire, de la fantaisie à l'osé, du clin d'œil à l'indécence crâne, en passant par le jamais vu jusque là, anime la montée en puissance dramaturgique de Until our Hearts Stop.

Il y aurait du cabaret dada, dans un glissement des situations, où se bouscule du kamasoutra kitsch, du SM gay de pacotille, de la prestidigitation de baraque de foire, de l'interaction d'échanges absurdes avec la salle (lesquels rappelleraient le meilleur des accents d'une Robyn Orlin). Toutes ces choses effectivement traversées, vécues, là, sur le plateau. La conduite de tout cela tangue dans une ivresse de la fragmentation spectaculaire.

Tout semblerait pouvoir se produire. Et son contraire. Et quoi d'autre encore. Du gratte-zizi embarrassant, à la flambée lyrique de belle facture. Entre deux eaux du saumâtre ou du pince-sans-rire, il y a beaucoup d'occasions de se réjouir dans ce tableau en société, affolé, mais finalement en résistance, qu'active Meg Stuart. En fait, cela travaille beaucoup au fond, dans une électricité de la fluctuation perceptive, une insolence infligée à la cohérence, une gifle flanquée au pitoyable du quotidien (et quelques baffes jamais perdues pour l'état actuel de la France).

On tend parfois à se soulever de son fauteuil; happé vers cette équipée. Laquelle suggère l'une des plus belles pensées possibles, chez le spectateur même blasé : soit le fait de bouillir d'envie d'éprouver ce que ces interprètes peuvent être en train de vivre dans cette affaire, qui ne ressemble à aucune exécution de pièce commanditée. Rien n'y est identique aux situations déjà formidables suscitées par Violet ou Sketches/Notebook ces dernières saisons. Or c'est toujours, furieusement, du Meg Stuart. Unique et irremplaçable.

Jun 2017
Jusqu’à ce qu’amour s’en suive
[ French ]
Les Inrockuptibles
Patrick Sourd

Pièce pour trois musiciens et six danseurs, Until Our Hearts Stop de Meg Stuart est une ode arty à la rencontre et au désir. Farouchement jubilatoire.

Cernée en sa périphérie par un cheminement de luminaires suspendus au plafond, la scénographie témoigne de l’état d'incertitude d'un lieu dédié à l'art contemporain, alors que l’exposition qui s'y tenait est en cours de démontage. Lin empilement de tableaux et un canapé de cuir noir ont été repoussés dans un coin à l'avant-scène. Quelques pièces demeurent toujours en place au lointain. Revêtue d'un bardage de bois à claires-voies, la structure d'un escalier convoque les aspirations à prendre de la hauteur. Elle dialogue avec une monumentale stalactite de tissu bleu qui évoque le vertige d'une chute d'eau tombant à pic des cintres. A la manière d'un ring, le carré luisant d'un sol de plastique noir délimite une petite scène au centre du plateau.

S'amusant des possibles offerts par cet espace qu'elle squatte comme un terrain d'aventure, Meg Stuart se lance, avec Until Our Hearts Stop, dans l'ambitieux projet de rendre compte de la genèse d'une oeuvre se structurant à partir des rapports qui se nouent entre ses interprètes. D'abord réunis comme des êtres indifférenciés, les neuf qui évoluent devant nous vont bientôt se séparer en deux groupes. Trois d'entre eux rejoignent leur instrument (piano, batterie, guitare), restent trois couples qui vont se tester sans limites, au gré de leurs fantaisies. L'occasion d'un quiz mêlant danse et théâtre pour décrier les mille et une manières de rompre la glace. Suite à ce premier contact, on s'amuse à nouer des relations qui s'ancrent sans ambiguïté sur la mise à disposition du corps de l'autre. Enfin, côté sexuel, on fracasse le tabou de la violence en combinant les pratiques du sado-masochisme.

Ce tout espéré d'un spectacle passé par le reniflage, l'attouchement et une danse dans tous ses états qui forment petit à petit la charpente du scenario d'un cabaret ne puisant qu'à l'intime. Affranchie des interdits, l'onde de choc du show épique s'étend naturellement au-delà des limites du fameux quatrième mur, pour inclure dans son emprise les spectateurs de la salle. Baignée par une musique jazz-rock interprétée en live, l’expérience proposée par Meg Stuart se transforme au fil de ses outrances en un délicieux rendez-vous. N'ayant d'autre but que de briser avec la plus touchante des générosités cette bulle de solitude dont chacun est si fier, Until Our Hearts Stop est un hommage à cette infinie liberté qui nous habite et qui donne son prix à l'existence, tant que nos coeurs n'ont pas cessé de battre.

Jan 2016
Meg Stuart dances with her ghosts

Gonçalo Frota

In her first evening-length solo, Meg Stuart takes her body to the stage as an archive of memories, both of family life and her artistic career. In Hunter, running from 28 to 30 January at the Teatro Maria Matos, the choreographer and dancer is both the hunter and the prey.

There are sure to be a large number of respectable studies (from those who propose one thing, to the opposite, or the coexistence of both) arguing that anyone who finds themselves alone seeks immediate solace in the radio or television. There will even be those who argue that radio or television would be enough to remove the solitude from that equation. When we see Meg Stuart alone on stage playing out this game in which she is both hunter and prey, chasing her own tail in circles (“maybe all this makes me look a bit silly”, she laughs), it is not a solitary act. For the choreographer and dancer whose solos had, until now, only been short exercises in a break between two longer pieces (the sort that clean the palate or reset the timer before continuing the journey), Hunter is too populous a piece for any trace of solitude to be felt in the solo. In fact, Hunter is quite the opposite: a body used as an archive of real and fictional memories; a head flooded with voices; a reconstruction of her entire personal cartography for a stage on which, only with great lack of imagination, we will see only Meg Stuart.

“There is a lot of material in this piece and I am summoning voices, in a way”, she explains to Ípsilon. Sometimes, these are perfectly audible to the audience, including those of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs or an aunt, mixing the family history that she discovered when digging back seven generations (as suggested by a shaman) with a host of artists that helped to shape her movement. At other times, those voices are barely discernible and yet capable of suggesting references that are essentially presumed to be to Jonas Mekas, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown or Miranda July. Hunter “works as a series of self-portraits”, beginning with a collage of images, cut-ups and visual devices that Stuart uses to build the map on which she will go on to dance. In some sense, the piece is summarised in that idea: calling all possible pasts to the stage in order to perceive what Meg Stuart’s movement is made up of today, and to access them all without any obvious nexus. “For two years, I worked with a lot of people, using other people’s vocabulary, shaping their material and their movements”, she explains. “Then I became curious, after such a long period of time, to see how I was moving and how they all influenced this journey I have made with my work. I felt that while I have the energy and interest to perform, it was a good way to put Damaged Goods [her company] and my creative process into perspective.”

With Hunter, Meg Stuart is putting herself into the development of her own discourse. She has thought of and defined the body as a repository of memories for a long time, but never before has she taken this belief so literally and to such an extreme. Looking at her body and her movement as an archive, she decided to amplify and delve into it as far as possible. “I began to talk to my parents; look at photos of them; uncover our family history and the fictional elements that interested me; think about my cultural and artistic heroes; things that I liked to do when I was younger; music that influenced me…”, and all of this built up into a whole muddle of tracks which she lays out freely on stage.

Explosion of narratives
In Built to Last, Meg Stuart’s previous creation, the idea of the archive already fascinated her, only at that time it was her musical archive to which she was attuned. By moving into the personal domain, the choreographer is identifying a possible response to this previous piece; another form of digging down to try and see herself more clearly. It was in these excavations that Stuart found herself looking at a diary filmed by the Lithuanian filmmaker, Jonas Mekas: “a strange video about the importance of changing your opinion, in which he tells a story about Paris Hilton, saying that he believes in her and likes the way she talks about change.” Meg Stuart was ensnared by Mekas; she started following what he published and the filmmaker became “a sort of godfather, someone who helped bring the piece together.” He even authorised her to use the audio from that diary entry in which he talks about popular (and political) condemnation of changes in opinion, arguing that they are in fact symptomatic of a healthy character. “Change is not a bad thing” repeats Stuart, “it is the absence of change that is bad.”

In investigating her own choreographic language and what makes it flesh, Meg Stuart accepts the idea of transformation and uncertainty about her present. It is not a coincidence that, as well as following on from Built to Last, Hunter is also the fruit of the last five years spent working with the playwright Jeroen Peeters on the book ‘Are We Here Yet?’, about her career with Damaged Goods. Although Peeters has helped her in this “memory hunt”, one of the attractions of this creation was in fact in interrupting the interpretation of her movements, rhythms, materials and proposals by third parties (dancers). “In terms of choreography, perhaps it is a more advanced piece; it is possible that I simplify things by using dancers”, she says. Hunter therefore dispenses with the need to establish an order that others can share and work with; it does not appear concerned with defining a collective environment. Rather, it is about a sudden plunge into Meg Stuart’s chaotic, random and unbridled thoughts. “It is not easy to do. It is very cryptic and difficult to follow in the sense that I do not adopt a narrative”, she explains. “Americans always want to tell their life story and I am not doing that at all. It is a piece with many layers to it: an explosion of narratives.”

Creating a personal piece does not mean adopting a confessional tone, but Hunter does dedicate a block to the spoken record, which Meg Stuart has never tried before and in which she shares some “aspects” of her life, “although casually, without any theatricality”. “The power of language compared with movement is strange”, she marvels. “We can kill ourselves three times on stage, but say anything and it has another effect – it realises the desire for a personal relationship with the audience, moving from being an encounter to a desire for us to connect with each other.” This is something that does not displease her. In fact, Meg Stuart is amused by the idea that Hunter could seem like an excessive narcissistic obsession, simply because around her – somewhat as strange as it is cosy – there are always several ghosts following her every move.

12 Sep 2016

Jérôme Provençal

A selective look back at the highly stimulating 28th edition of the Berlin Tanz Im August festival which ended in style with Meg Stuart’s wonderful new play Until Our Hearts Stop.

In order to give you an overall idea of this 2016 edition, let’s start with a few figures: in the space of a little more than 3 weeks, 26 plays were put on in 8 different venues in Berlin, brought together around Hebbel Am Ufer (HAU), an extremely dynamic theatre complex and the heart of the festival.

The figures are supposed to speak for themselves, but they don’t say much, nothing vital in any case. Putting all the plays together in the same indistinct ensemble, says nothing, for example, about the (very) big gap between Emanuel Gat’s Sunny - presented at the beginning of the festival - a play which is sadly far more scholarly than it is sunny, and Until Our Hearts Stop, Meg Stuart’s exhilarating new creation which was put on at the end of the three weeks. Characterised by a remarkable feel for space and the passage of time, this fiercely unclassifiable play originates in a dynamic that is both precise and erratic, rigorous and playful – a dynamic in which the three musicians present on stage (Samuel Halscheidt, Marc Lohr and Stefan Rusconi) are as involved as the six dancers/performers (Neil Callaghan, Jared Gradinger, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni, Claire Vivianne Sobottke and Kristof Van Boven). Struggling with the issue of togetherness, Meg Stuart expresses an imperious desire to live and create, showing everything through an exhilarating freedom of tone and movement, which results in a few well-known scenes (we are thinking, in particular, of the incredible pair of nudes). This is our pick of this Tanz Im August 2016.

12 Sep 2016
[ French ]
Jérôme Provençal

Retour sélectif sur la très stimulante 28ème édition du festival berlinois Tanz Im August qui s’est achevée en beauté avec la splendide nouvelle pièce de Meg Stuart, Until Our Hearts Stop.

Pour donner une vision globale de cette édition 2016, l’on peut commencer en indiquant quelques chiffres: durant un peu plus de 3 semaines, 26 pièces ont été présentées dans 8 lieux différents de Berlin, rassemblés autour du Hebbel Am Ufer (HAU), très dynamique complexe théâtral et cœur du festival.

Supposés pouvoir parler d’eux-mêmes, les chiffres ne disent pourtant pas grand-chose, rien d’essentiel en tout cas. Fondant toutes les pièces en un même ensemble indistinct, ils ne disent rien par exemple du (très) grand écart qui sépare Sunny, pièce hélas plus scolaire que solaire d’Emanuel Gat présentée en ouverture, d’Until Our Hearts Stop, enthousiasmante nouvelle création de Meg Stuart programmée en fin de festival. Caractérisée par une appréhension remarquable de la mise en espace et du passage du temps, cette pièce farouchement inclassable procède d’une dynamique à la fois précise et erratique, rigoureuse et ludique – une dynamique à laquelle les trois musiciens présents sur scène (Samuel Halscheidt, Marc Lohr et Stefan Rusconi) participent autant que les six danseurs/performeurs (Neil Callaghan, Jared Gradinger, Leyla Postalcioglu, Maria F. Scaroni, Claire Vivianne Sobottke et Kristof Van Boven). Aux prises avec la question de l’être-ensemble, Meg Stuart exprime ici un impérieux désir de vivre et de créer, en faisant preuve tout du long d’une jubilatoire liberté de ton et de mouvement, qui donne lieu à quelques scènes d’anthologie (on pense en particulier à l’incroyable duo de nues). Coup de cœur de ce Tanz Im August 2016, que le public français pourra découvrir à partir du printemps 2017.

31 May 2016
Jury report het TheaterFestival (UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP)

het TheaterFestival 2016

Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods & Münchner Kammerspiele’s UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP started out as an exploration of the effect that being touched has upon us, and by extension, of where our boundaries lie. Meg Stuart began with contact improvisation, but quickly dispensed with its usual taboos – such as violence, or touching in sensitive places. To the looping, sometimes overwhelming jazz strains of Marc Lohr, Stefan Rusconi and Samuel Halscheidt, the six performers paw at, ambush and exploit one another every which way. They squeeze together onto a single sofa in order to pick and pull at one another, like children abandoning themselves to an explosive mix of curiosity, boredom and listlessness. Until they roll over the floor in a tangle of bodies and let rip in a no-holds-barred, stark naked dogfight and a ‘Dolle Mina’-style concert. Finally, they scamper across the stage like young foals that have just been turned out, before ending in an ardent embrace. This looks like absolute freedom. Both mentally and physically, it sweeps embarrassment aside.

Meg Stuart wanted to create a situation that went beyond simply role-playing, and to extend this into the theatre auditorium. So the performers also mix with the audience, where they hand out drinks, sit on someone’s lap or have their make-up applied by a spectator. UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP not only literally draws very near, but also turns out to be an unpredictable and capricious fantasy; something that is poised between a conjuring act and an esoteric ritual involving a great deal of dressing up. You constantly seem to be witnessing an original world in which everything could go in any direction, and in which the imagination knows no bounds. Only Kristof Van Boven stays above the fray, acting as the standard bearer for an adult audience that no longer wishes to take these kinds of excesses seriously, for fear of the implications.

What purpose is served by the long epilogue, in which Claire Vivianne Sobottke begs for love, attention, money and warmth, or by the collective ballet of incomprehensible signs with which the performance ends? You never quite work out how you are ultimately supposed to interpret this work, but the way in which Stuart takes you with her on a trip through our physical and psychological being, whilst avoiding every cliché, is unparalleled. Her performers dance, sing, curse and flirt as if their final hour has come. Stuart breaks open her linguistic idiom to create lyrical dance theatre that unites performers and spectators in admiration and, yes, love. It makes UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP the ultimate, whirling expression that a burning world longs for: faith in imagination and in each other.

04 Sep 2016
Art wins back the circus

Hanswerner Kruse

Highlight was the macabre dance of a couple with motorcycle helmets and heavy boots. The man with stilts strides with the confidence of a great warrior or writhes helplessly on the ground. Sometimes the small woman in the tulle skirt pulls on the wooden legs, sometimes she fuses with him into one gigantic creature. In changing light and strange sounds the two torment each other or unite as a loving couple. They are incredible, rarely seen, ever new images that flash and fade away. Choreographer Meg Stuart ("Actually I really hate circus") has created a framework for this young, performing duo, which explores artistic and physical limits.

14 Oct 2016
Nous passons
[ French ]
Le Devoir
Catherine Lalonde

« Art is an unwanted gift », dit Meg Stuart en anglais seulement, parmi une livraison de souvenirs, d’explications sur les matériaux du décor, de pensées sur la manière dont nous pourrions mieux vivre ensemble. Ce collage final de mots, qui convoque les figures de Louise Bourgeois, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono et la mémoire désormais évanescente de Trisha Brown, avant de tourner au sing along puis au cri, est à l’image de son solo Hunter. Une rosace, un grand collage de mémoires physiques, sonores, énergiques.

Hunter est un travail artistique de maturité. Tout y est complexe: le dispositif scénique; les projections (abstraites, paysages ou films d’enfance); le montage sonore (voix multiples et multigénérationnelles, sons, musiques); la lumière. Si le geste reste assez simple — expressif sans jamais être tout à fait littéral; parlant de contraintes à tenir, de besoins inachevés de libération; précis, rapide, admirablement incarné —, il s’imbrique avec une rare précision dans son écrin. Il y a là plus que de la cohérence entre les divers éléments scéniques; sans qu’on arrive tout à fait à de la magie, il y a création, oui, d’un langage personnel, où ils font office d’alphabet, essentiels; où ils se reflètent et ricochent les uns sur les autres, ajoutent du sens, d’autres lectures de ce qui se déploie sous nos yeux. C’est rare. Comme la très grande maîtrise des rythmes qui est à l’oeuvre ici.

Dans cet environnement, qui tient souvent de l’installation, Meg Stuart, la cinquantaine, au centre de sa toile, s’agite par saccades, semble répondre à des urgences, à des vitesses, à des intensités qui l’irritent. Que Stuart danse ou parle, toujours persiste une retenue qui, parfois créé le mystère, parfois l’incapacité d’accéder à la libération que le spectateur finit par espérer. Mais qui fait aussi qu’on ne voit pas seulement une danseuse, mais une humaine ; une comme vous, comme moi, et pleine de colères contenues.

Hunter est une pièce qui n’éclot pas tout à fait; à nous de nous pencher vers la scène pour sentir ce qui se meut derrière la coquille, à nous de croire que toute cette durée (1h30) est nécessaire pour que nous arrivions à cette qualité d’écoute. En ce sens, l’oeuvre est exigeante, dense — il fallait voir les spectateurs sortir de la salle tous au ralenti, marchant comme dans de l’eau —, riche, un peu lourde, car seul le spoken word final amène une certaine légèreté, et des rires. Mais elle fait naître un vrai sentiment de partage. Car Stuart y dévoile son désarroi, son désir que le mouvement et le changement prennent le dessus sur les habitudes et la rigidité. Elle nous indique que notre vision n’est qu’un filtre, capable de transformer et de colorer l’espace sous nos yeux. Et elle nous rappelled que nous passons. Nous passons, seulement.

« Art is an unwanted gift, dit Meg Stuart, dans cette très belle pièce. You give something to people they don’t necessarily want, but you think they need it, and they have to deal with it. »

Et voilà. C’est dit.

À nous donc.

Dec 2015
Chasseur de Palimpsestes
[ French ]
Lauriane Schulz

Du 4 au 7 février dernier, les « spectacles vivants » du Centre Pompidou ont présenté Hunter, premier solo de la chorégraphe et danseuse américaine Meg Stuart. Retour sur une pièce éclectique et dense, où l’artiste creuse la mémoire de son propre corps en multipliant les modes d’expression.

C’est une première pour Meg Stuart. Celle qui a fondé la compagnie Damaged Goods en 1994 et que l’on connaît pour ses créations d’envergure – VIOLET (2011), Built to Last (2012), Sketches/Notebook (2013), pour ne citer ici que les plus récentes –, apparaît enfin seule sur scène, sous les projecteurs d’une histoire : la sienne.

D’emblée, Hunter s’épanche dans une scénographie savoureuse, tant par la dimension plastique des matériaux utilisés (bois, feutre, plexiglas) que par l’éclairage soigneusement orchestré. L’œil spectateur ricoche d’un bout à l’autre de la scène : en dehors de l’estrade où se déplace principalement la chorégraphe se dressent trois écrans, sur lesquels sont projetés, souvent de façon alternée, toujours furtivement, des images et bribes de films, en couleurs ou noir et blanc. Une table et une chaise, un banc, une construction précaire à l’apparence d’un chapiteau (voire, pourquoi pas, d’un radeau) complètent le tableau.

Fil conducteur du travail de Meg Stuart, l’articulation de la danse et des arts visuels est une fois de plus au rendez-vous, tout comme l’importance accordée au son. Bruitages confus, ambiances électroniques, trames musicales variées, effets de rembobinage accéléré, rires, voix et murmures s’entremêlent selon différents degrés d’intensité, de l’à peine audible à l’assourdissant. La bande-son, jusqu’en sa matière la plus brute, est élément structurant, au même titre que le silence.

La mémoire, corps-pellicule

Dans cet espace traversé d’images (visages, anciennes photos de famille, paysages), mais aussi puissamment tactile et sonore, tout semble tendre vers un seul effort : travailler la mémoire. Celle du corps. Une mémoire stratifiée, contorsionnée, que l’artiste cherche à faire éclore. Pendant près d’une heure, l’énergie déborde : secoué par des forces obscures et invisibles, pris de spasmes, tordu, saccadé, propulsé, roulé par terre, ou tout simplement tâté et déroulé, immobile, découvert, le corps se rappelle. Il devient réservoir de sensations, Mnémosyne revisitée, plongée dans une archéologie du souvenir et de l’intériorité. Avec Hunter, Meg Stuart parvient à révéler cet espace où corps et esprit se trouvent inextricablement imbriqués, et à réveiller, charnellement, un vécu singulier.

Après cette séquence intensément rythmée, nourrie d’actions hétérogènes – jeu du corps contre une plaque de plexiglas aux reflets fluorescents ; accoutrements de l’artiste, qui enfile une robe patchwork ou s’enveloppe d’une longue perruque blonde –, la chorégraphe ouvre un deuxième volet laissant place à la parole, dans un registre plus léger. Sur une musique d’ambiance jazzy, Meg Stuart évoque pêle-mêle des souvenirs d’enfance, sa conception de l’art, son rapport à la mémoire, quelques futilités. Si l’humour est bien présent et le personnage attachant, la pièce voit glisser la subtilité et la puissance d’une performance déjà bien meublée vers l’anecdotique et la surenchère, prenant le risque de s’essouffler.
Ces quelques lourdeurs sont balayées par un troisième et dernier acte qui tient le spectateur en haleine jusqu’à l’extinction des projecteurs. Reliant le chant au cri, la danse à la transe, l’artiste finit par plonger dans une mise en abîme où son corps se fond parmi les écrans démultipliés.

Hunter de Meg Stuart a été présenté du 4 au 7 février au Centre Pompidou.

Dec 2015
Die Aura-Jägerin
[ German ]
tip Berlin
Arnd Wesemann

Revisited: Die Avantgarde-Choreografin zeigt im HAU ihre eigensinnigen Erfolgsstücke Hunter und VIOLET.

Meg Stuart trägt Hose und T-Shirt. In Wahrheit trägt sie Aura. Wenn die US-Choreografin in ihrem Solo Hunter über eine Plexiglasplatte gebeugt Fotos beschneidet, wenn sie in Erinnerungen kramt und dieses Tun auf eine Leinwand projiziert, geht ein Gedanke gar nicht mehr aus dem Kopf: Da sitzt ihre Aura höchstpersönlich mit dem Rücken zu uns bearbeitet fotografische Erinnerungen. 20 Jahre Bühnenerfahrung in Berlin, seit Disfigure Study von 1991, verbünden sich zu einem Solo, das diese Jahre in einen Kompressor stopft und zu einem Affentanz verdichtet.

Sie hechtet wie über einen Tennisplatz, sie wirft ihre Arme wie Signalflaggen in die Luft, sie exekutiert sich selbst als Jägerin und wirkt wie ein gejagtes Tier, wild und gefährlich. Alles ist nur ‚wie’ – denn alles behält einen gehörigen Abstand zu der 50-jährigen Amerikanerin, die in ihrem eigenen Tanz dermaßen verschwindet, bis dieses Ding tatsächlich aufscheint: ihre Aura. Aura, das klingt auch abzüglich aller Esoterik nach Unnahbarkeit. Aura umschreibt nur unscharf das unbeschreibliche Phänomen Meg Stuart. Mit der Wiederaufname ihres Doppels Hunter von 2014 und VIOLET von 2011 im HAU zelebriert das Mitglied der honorigen Akademie der Künste nicht etwa schöne Erinnerungen an ihre eigenen Werke. Hier geht es um etwas anderes: Sie lässt Energien zirkulieren, bis sich sonderbare Intensitäten aufbauen.

Gejagte Körper

‚Unfolding’ nennt sie das, wenn lose Ideen in eine Schleife aus Assoziationen geraten, die vom Körper allmählich besitz ergreifen. Mit offenem Mund sieht man das gerade in VIOLET: Hier tanzen nicht fünf Tänzer, hier tanzen Konvulsionen, die die Macht erlangen über den Körper, ihn schütteln, ihm die Bedeutung rauben, ihm nicht mal die Würde des Opfers lassen, sondern ihn restlos in Besitz nehmen. Der Tanz entleert den Tänzer als sei er eine Mülltonne, er verletzt ihn und vergewaltigt ihn („to violate“ ganz buchstäblich). Da verausgaben sich die fünf Tänzer, bit – ja – bei ihnen die Aura allmählich zu glühen beginnt. Jede Bedeutung, die man noch zu erraten sucht, verpufft, wenn zum Schluss drei Jungs schwer atmend auf der Bühne liegen, weinend, kopulierend, verendend.

Alles drei auf einmal, ununterscheidbar, leer und derart verstrahlt, dass man erleichtert feststellt: Sie hat sie wieder einmal erjagt, diese unbegreiflich undefinierbare Aura, die den Körper nirgendwo anders so brutal umweht wie in den Tanzkunstwerken von Meg Stuart.

Dec 2015
Hunter: Meg Stuart
[ French ]
Smaranda Olcèse

Jouer avec le feu, faire le grand saut, plonger dans un trop plein de matières, sonores, visuelles, kinesthésiques, chaque soir comme la toute première fois. Louvoyer à travers des territoires d’inconfort, rester sur le qui-vive, à l’écoute du moindre sursaut de son être, chasseur chassé en proie à d’insoupçonnables intensifications, tempêtes magnétiques et autres embuches de l’imaginaire corporel. Et s’il fallait ne garder qu’un éclat, à l’instar de cette petite sphère de verre ramassée furtivement à même le plateau, un an auparavant, à la fin de Sketches/ notebook, ce serait cette phrase, « running naked in the woods », avec tout ce qu’elle a de frais, d’impulsif et de terriblement vivant.

Sacrifier au feu et au hazard
La table de montage est saturée d’images – visages d’enfants, portraits de famille aux teints vaguement passés ou found footage, imagerie pop et documents intimes – organisées patiemment en constellations et strates. On y distingue également quelques brins d’herbe dans un bocal. Leur combustion sera immédiate. Des flammèches avides, capricieuses, voraces, vont se répandre dans les interstices de cette architecture fragile, consommer certaines photographies, reveler d’autres images. Dos au public, légèrement penchée sur la table de travail, Meg Stuart est en train d’accomplir un petit rituel incantatoire. Il faut passer par là, sacrifier au feu et au hasard, pour qu’autre chose puisse apparaître. Un fil rouge conjure les éléments, alors que l’ensemble tourne.

Pulvérisée dans les flux sauvages
Un renversement des perspectives s’opère du plan de travail au plateau. La chorégraphe est désormais au centre d’un espace réticulaire dont les lignes de force débordent dans la salle, surplombent les gradins, un espace animé par des énergies secrètes. La matière sonore se met à bourdonner – neige cathodique, brouillages, ondes pirates, survivances spectrales et échos, voix enfouies, orphelines qui reviennent avec l’insistance d’une hantise. Meg Stuart évolue comme pulvérisée entre les différentes fréquences, elle semble un peu perdue, tiraillée, prise entre, dans ces flux sauvages. Sa danse s’apparente aux changements d’état imprévisibles et aux mouvements d’humeurs dévastatrices de quelque entité protéiforme, infra-subjective, moléculaire, tout droit sortie de ce scénario oublié de Félix Guattari*. Son corps devient un véritable outil sensible, récepteur des oscillations et saccades, intensificateur, capteur d’énergies innommables, il sert à circonscrire et remonter le temps. Des champs magnétiques brutalement entrechoqués semblent favoriser l’apparition des images qui remontent à la surface d’un magma corporel exacerbé pour s’inscrire sur les différentes surfaces de projection, de l’embrassure protectrice d’un écran en bois à la texture épaisse et poreuse d’un tissue qui n’a pas encore déplié tous ses secrets. Les canevas d’accueil se démultiplient, aux qualités, nuances, configurations diverses. L’espace devient entièrement sensible, complètement ouvert aux souvenirs a-personnels, génériques. Les images se répondent selon des rythmes qui semblent obéir aux pulsions liminales d’un rêve qui nous échappe subrepticement. Des miroitements fusent dans tous les sens.

Une déconcertante dédramatisation du solo et de la figure héroïque du créateur
Quelque chose de la matière des expérimentations de Sketches/notebook a filtré jusqu’à Hunter. Une même recherche a nourri les deux créations. Ils étaient plus d’une douzaine à labourer le terrain de jeu, dans des décharges fulgurantes, constellations protéiformes et autres chaines organiques qui englobaient les corps mêmes des spectateurs. Meg Stuart se retrouve désormais sur le plateau, dans une position de fragilité pleinement assumée, exposée, en proie à la déferlante de matériaux chorégraphiques. Car elle décide de tout garder, ou presque.

Elle y ajoute même une séquence à la première personne, littéralement autobiographique. Ce faisant, elle met en acte une déconcertante dédramatisation du solo et de la figure héroïque** du créateur. L’artiste revendique le droit d’être débordée, submergée dans les flots de matières sensibles, bousculée encore et toujours, donc terriblement vivante. Certains vont croire déceler dans cette proposition, quelques vingt ans après ses premières pièces, la fugue impétueuse, la démesure et l’avidité d’un premier travail. Le geste de Meg Stuart respire au contraire une énorme générosité. Tout se chevauche, tout se télescope, tout est là, se donne et s’obscurcit, dans une densité parfois insoutenable. Il s’agit avant tout de choisir l’angle, le cadre, dans une cascade de mises en abime, le point de vue, à son corps défendant, de partager la conscience du fait que le cadre peut se déplacer, danser sur les murs de la grande salle et sur le plafond, quitte à mettre à mal le déroulement du film, à ralentir ou altérer le défilement, le rythme des images.

* Un amour d’UIQ, scénario de Félix Guattari. Voir également le beau film de Graeme Thomson et Silvia Maglioni, In Search of UIQ (2013)
** selon l’expression d’André Lepecki Hunter a été donné au Centre Pompidou du 4 au 7 février 2015.

Jan 2015
Built to Last : A dance that takes Beethoven back from the Nazis

The Irish Times
Michael Seaver

The historical baggage isn’t a natural fit for choreographer Meg Stuart’s aesthetic, but she finds a new approach. In Built to Last, the mood stays light, bordering on irreverent, as the dancers assume historic movement patterns reminiscent of Isadora Duncan or German expressionist dance.

Meg Stuart sets herself a challenge before creating a new dance. The American choreographer, who is based in Brussels and Berlin, claims to develop an entirely new movement language for every piece as she collaborates with directors, visual artists, musicians and designers. Rather than following well-trodden routes, these works explore the edges of what is possible.

When she decided to use Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony as a basis for her dance Built to Last, it didn’t seem like a novel departure. There is no new language emerging from sparky interactions with bolshie musicians here, just an acceptance of prewritten music from a dead composer.

But Beethoven’s masterpiece comes loaded with historical baggage that doesn’t find a natural home within Stuart’s aesthetic. Her response was not to overthink it. “I didn’t analyse the music’s structure or anything,” she says. “I just wanted to elicit a purely emotional response and discover what emerged when the music was simply listened to, rather than studied.”

The primary response was heroic. “It is said that people want to play Mozart, but want to conduct Beethoven. It’s large-scale music with an epic intensity. When you play it in your living room, your life becomes bigger.”

Composer Alain Franco joined the rehearsals as a kind of music dramaturg and suggested adding other composers, so the soundscore expanded into a rich tapestry of fragments by Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Schoenberg, Xenakis, Stockhausen and others.

“I felt that it was possible to make a very fresh human approach to these fragments of classics,” says Stuart. “There was a way to meet them in a real human way without being disrespectful.”

This openness is unusual within contemporary dance, where many choreographers have resisted the aural backdrop offered by classical music, fearful it might gentrify their incendiary aesthetic with plush sounds and a veneer of respectability.

Additionally, an association exists between classical music and ballet, whose narrative-driven choreography is antithetical to the conceptual purity pursued by many contemporary choreographers. But classical warhorses such as the Eroica can prove more than an aesthetic threat.

“Music in German history has a chequered past,” she says, referring to the appropriation of Beethoven, Wagner and other German composers by the Nazi regime. According to conductor Roger Norrington, “during the Nazi period, Beethoven’s Eroica was made to assume the mantle of the heroic German nation, either conquering, or suffering heroic defeat at Stalingrad.”

Mindful of this, Stuart quotes the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who claims: “The same music that served evil purposes can be redeemed to serve the good. Or it can be read in a much more ambiguous way. With music we cannot ever be sure. In so far as it externalises our inner passion, music is potentially always a threat.”

The threat is proportional to monumentality, a theme that quickly emerged in rehearsals for Built to Last. Unlike the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t nature of dance, classical music is preserved by ink on paper and, like the stone and bronze monuments within cityscapes, is a snapshot of history at a particular time.

Although approaches to interpreting Beethoven may change, dictated by performance trends, the essence of the composer’s intentions remains. Meg Stuart says: “If music can become a monument, then we need to question it and its power. History is a manner of perspective, not a question of being right or wrong.”

This questioning needs to be constant, as there is a danger of losing sight of the original meaning and intention behind a monument. During Built to Last, performer Kristof Van Boven reflects how “a monument is something you stumble upon as you go about your daily business. It imposes thoughts and memories, and makes it clear that the present has a past.”

Name that composer
Music has also constantly imposed itself on dance. Many orchestral masterpieces of the 19th and 20th century are the result of commissions from ballet and dance companies, yet most people would struggle to name the choreographers of Swan Lake, The Firebird, L’Après-Midi d’Un Faune, Seven Deadly Sins or Appalachian Spring.

In Built to Last, Stuart questions and “dances back” at this hierarchy by including a chunk of Trio A, a postmodern dance classic by the choreographer Yvonne Rainer. Performed in silence, the 1966 dance uses direct and functional movement that reflects Rainer’s infamous No Manifesto. Seeking to to divorce dance from any historical cliches, it opened with the lines: “No to spectacle; No to virtuosity; No to transformations and magic and make-believe.” Its inclusion in Built to Last is a reminder of the power of movement to assert aesthetic authority without the back-up of music.

With such a weighty subject matter, there is a danger that Built to Last could be self-involved and yawnsome, but Stuart insists the mood stays light, bordering on irreverent, as the dancers assume historic movement patterns reminiscent of Isadora Duncan or German expressionist dance. These quotations aren’t included to reward dance geeks but contrive to change the dancers into “time travellers” that embody a particular fragment of music with historical empathy and the self-knowledge of the present.

“There is a lot of humour in the piece and the dancers are constantly pushing borders and boundaries. They don’t just present this holy untouchable music, but a way to construct their own reality within it. This is true freedom.”

Jan 2015
Built to Last: An epic on the shoulders of musical warhorses

The Irish Times
Michael Seaver

Dublin Dance Festival review

Meg Stuart’s questions some classical music myths in her new show, and makes something uplifting amid the sturm und drang.

Four stars ****

In taking on classical music warhorses, choreographer Meg Stuart has created a theatrical experience equally epic. Sprawling across two hours, Built to Last throws stones at monuments to the past, questioning our tacit relationship with bombastic expressions of heroism and ultimately presents an uplifting affirmation of the human spirit.

Fourteen excerpts are used as metaphors for historical narrative. Stuart questions how this music can be appropriated and given an immovable mythical status, even though our perceptions of history constantly change. Actor Kristof Van Boven quotes Beethoven: “What’s in our hearts and in our souls must find a way out”, an antidote to another Beethoven quotation claiming that “eventually, music is always a threat”. This is the tension underpinning the entire performance: how does the individual interact with prescribed versions of history?

Sometimes the performers confront the blaring pomposity face-on with manic jerky movements on the edge of self-control, as in the case of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. At other times they approach the music as time travellers, responding to the sounds with a contemporary vocabulary, like the German Expressionist dance that matches Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

It’s not all serious. Aside from Van Boven’s quips to the audience, some images are deliberately funny, like Van Boven and fellow performers Anja Müller and Davis Freeman appearing in a kind of a Victorian museum case, or Müller as a Wagnerian-like Goddess-heroine up among the revolving planets. The overall effect is complemented with energetic and pitch-perfect performances by the five performers, that include Maria F Scaroni and Dragana Bulut.

Jan 2015
Built to Last

Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Dance Festival 2015: Nothing lasts forever except forever

Five stars *****

First, the body. Solid. Upright. It begins to sway. Then the hand, seeking simple gestures, clenching and unclenching. Next the arm, extended, bending, seeking shape and form. The urge gradually brings all parts of the body to movement and from there to motion. Set against an electronic soundscape, five performers relentlessly seek, find and are frustrated by patterns, culminating in a cacophony of movement and sound before one of the performers quietly brings the others to a halt before turning to nervously address the audience. So begins Built to Last, by renowned choreographer, Meg Stuart, making her Irish debut and kicking off the Dublin Dance Festival 2015 with an excellent production that sets the bar high.

When describing itself as a history of dance, Built to Last does itself a great disservice. For it speaks not just to the history of dance, but to the making of dance, to the need of the body to give expression, with or without music. Of an insatiable urge that can find momentarily release in forms and patterns, none ever big enough to accommodate all that needs to be expressed. Indeed, at times classical musical forms, if momentarily merging with the body’s expressiveness, seem to inhibit it, hamper it, forcing the body to break out and seek new pathways. At times fleetingly recognisable moments appear, tender tableaux temporarily take shape before passing away in the search for newer forms. At other times it appears as if the lunatics have taken over the asylum as the struggle to find shape grapples with restrictions and the need for form. If all is shifting, what never changes is the striving for expression, the endless searching, the body constantly reaching out to catch the stars and channel all that heaven will allow.

Co-produced by Meg Stuart’s, Brussels based Damaged Goods and Munich’s Münchner Kammerspiele, Built to Last is a wonderful, innovative, and often humorous exploration of the making and history of dance. Self-consciously self-deprecating at times, it never ceases to engage, despite its uninterrupted two hours in length. Performers Dragana Bulut, Davis Freeman, Anja Müller, Maria F.Scaroni and Kristof Van Boven give a delightful ensemble performance, as well as creating exquisite individual moments. Stuart’s sensitive yet powerful choreography, at times delicate, wild, playful, was always revealing the vulnerability and humanity beneath, as well as her deep love and passion for dance. The only thing to do is surrender to it.

If dance forms aren't built to last, dance surely will as evidenced by this charming, insightful and, at times, sublime production. A must see.

22 Sep 2015
Choreographie der Körpererkundung
[ German ]
NRZ Der Westen
Michael-Georg Müller

Drei Frauen, drei Männer bauen Türme und Brücken mit ihren Körpern. Dann verknäueln und verdrehen sich die Leiber – zu Dritt oder zu Viert. Kaum zu erkennen, welcher Arm, welches Bein zu welchem Gesicht gehört. Mal tanzen sie in bunten Pullis oder Hosen, mal oben ohne, später splitterfasernackt. All’ das ist nicht neu, das kennt man aus vielen zeitgenössischen Tanzstücken. Doch die Tänzer der Choreografin Meg Stuart gehen in ihrem Stück UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP (Bis das Herz stehen bleibt) noch weiter. Sie beschnuppern sich gegenseitig, kitzeln die nackte Haut der Partner. Egal ob Mann oder Frau. Hauptsache die Nase erhält frische Nahrung, selbst vor der Schamgrenze macht ihr Entdeckungsdrang nicht Halt. Ironie, Parodie, Komik und echte Gefühle mischen sich in dem sinnlichen Körperbilder-Opus, das die Amerikanerin jetzt im Rahmen der Ruhrtriennale in Pact-Zollverein präsentierte.

Meg Stuart sprengt nicht, aber überschreitet Grenzen in ihrer geschickt komponierten Performance, die zwischen hitzigem Schlagzeug-Allegro und tranceähnlicher Piano-Ruhe pendelt. Da hocken zwei Frauen in Evakostüm mit gegrätschten Beinen voreinander, kitzeln mit den Füßen die Schamlippen der anderen. Oder zwei Männer massieren den Bauch, Rücken und Po ihres Gegenübers. Doch Voyeure kommen in diesen pausenlosen zwei Stunden nur selten auf ihre Kosten. Denn wenn die Darsteller mit ihren Gliedmaßen spielen, tun sie das wie unschuldige, alberne Kinder. Naiv und quietschfidel rennen sie dem anderen hinterher, werfen sich auf ihn/sie und reiben sich ihm/ihr.

Zudem kommentieren einige von ihnen häufig ihre Aktion. Das Außergewöhnliche aber ist die Art, wie Stuart das Publikum mitnimmt, ohne peinlich zu werden. Bei hellem Saallicht bieten sie den Zuschauern Wasser, Obst und Gugelhupf an, verteilen Knetmasse, mit denen viele später ihre Handmuskulatur trainieren. Einer plaudert gar hemmungslos mit Besuchern, sprüht Eau de Cologne, öffnet sein Hemd und fordert auf, ihn zu beschnuppern. Dass das jemand macht, beweist, wie Meg Stuart das Publikum zu lockeren Partnern gemacht hat.

18 Jun 2015
Das Ende einer Ära
[ German ]
Deutschlandradio Kultur
Christoph Leibold

Die Suche nach Nähe. Sie bewegt die meisten Menschen bis ihre Herzen aufhören zu schlagen: "UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP", so heißt auch das Stück der Choreografin Meg Stuart an den Münchner Kammerspielen. Es ist die fulminante letzte Premiere, mit der die Ära des bisherigen Intendanten Johan Simons endet.

Am liebsten, erklärt Meg Stuart in einem Einführungs-Film, den die Münchner Kammerspiele vor jeder Vorstellung zeigen, hätte Sie mit einer Big Band gearbeitet. Stattdessen steht nun ein Jazz-Trio neben den sechs Darstellern auf der weitgehend leeren, nur mit violettem Teppich und einem quadratischen, schwarz glänzenden Tanzboden ausgelegten Bühne (Doris Dziersk): Piano, Schlagzeug, E-Bass. Aber auch zu dritt bekommen die Musiker um Bassist Paul Lemp, der schon lange mit Stuart zusammenarbeitet, einen fetten Sound hin, der dem massiven Klang einer Big Band um nichts nachsteht.

Es beginnt allerdings mit schwebenden, fast konturlosen Klängen, zu denen die Performer in fast zeitlupenartiger Langsamkeit den Raum und vor allem einander erkunden. Annähern, Abtasten, Abstoßen. Sie legen sich auf- und übereinander, beklettern sich wechselseitig. Erst in Zweierkonstellationen, dann als Gruppe. Die Musik nimmt Fahrt auf, die Bewegungen werden schneller. Menschenpyramiden werden gebildet, stürzen aber in sich zusammen, ehe sie fertig sind. Zum zunehmend getriebenen, entfesselten Sound der Jazzer verbinden sich die sechs Darsteller zu einem Knäuel aus Begehren und Verzehren. Dann kehrt Stille ein. Ruhe. Nur ein atemloses Hecheln ist noch zu hören, dass langsam verflacht. Es ist dieser Rhythmus aus Aufwallung und Abebben, der diesen grandios getakteten Abend prägen wird bis zum Schluss. Ein Abend, ein Rhythmus, der die Zuschauer mitreißt, hineinzieht.

Nähe zum Publikum
Hineinziehen, einbeziehen – das will Meg Stuart, deren Akteure die Nähe auch zum Publikum suchen. In einem kleinen pantomimischen Moment von großer Komik rennt der hinreißende Kristof Van Boven (einziger Schauspieler aus dem Kammerspiele-Ensemble unter lauter Damaged Goods-Akteuren, die Stuart für die Produktion mitgebracht hat) gegen die unsichtbare vierte Wand. Die freilich ist längst eingerissen. Das Ensemble ist ins Publikum ausgeschwärmt, verteilt Kuchen, Obst, Wohnungsschlüssel, Ton zum Kneten. Verstrickt einzelne Theaterbesucher in private Gespräche, intime Momente. Rückt ihnen auf die Pelle. So nahe kommt einem Theater selten. Auch das: eine Grenzüberschreitung.

Grenzen werden noch viele überwunden während der zweistündigen Aufführung. Die Grenze zur Blödelei. Die Grenzen des Wahrscheinlichen (dank Zaubereinlagen). Auch Schamgrenzen. Minutenlang umschlingen sich ringend Claire Vivianne Sobottke und Maria F. Scaroni nackt. Reiben Scham und Brustwarzen aneinander, kneten einander die Brüste, machen Handstand gegen die Wand gelehnt und dabei gymnastische Übungen.

Mit den Zehenspitzen an den Schamlippen kitzeln
Ihre ausgestellte Nacktheit, die wirklich alles sichtbar macht, wäre anstößig, wäre sie nicht von lustvollen Albernheiten begleitet, wenn sich etwa Sobottke und Scaroni mit den Zehenspitzen an den Schamlippen zwischen den gespreizten Schenkeln kitzeln. Es ist diese neckische Natürlichkeit, der Unernst solcher Situationen der darauf verweist, dass das Theater ein Raum ist, wo mit spielerischer Leichtigkeit Grenzen ausgelotet und auch zum Fallen gebracht werden können.

Mit Meg Stuarts "UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP" als letzter Premiere der Ära Johan Simons hat der scheidenden Intendant der Münchner Kammerspiele nochmal ein Ausrufezeichen gesetzt: Seht her! Soweit sind wir in den letzten fünf Jahren mit der internationalen und interdisziplinären Öffnung des Hauses gekommen! Das Feld ist bestens bestellt für Nachfolger Matthias Lilienthal, der im Herbst übernimmt und Simons' Ansatz weiterentwickeln soll und will. Die Messlatte liegt hoch.

20 Jun 2015
Unbequeme Zügellosigkeit
[ German ]
Deutsche Bühne
Vesta Mlaker

Trotz vieler Premierenlacher und einigen wirklich amüsanten Einsprengseln ist Meg Stuarts jüngstes Werk keine leichte Kost – weder für die Zuschauer, noch für die Akteure. Ihre Gruppe „Damaged Goods“ (übersetzt: „Beschädigte Ware“) setzt sich diesmal aus sechs Performern zusammen: drei Frauen und drei Männer, darunter Kristof Van Boven mit einer solistischen Sprechnummer. Sein in einen Frack gezwängter, an den Pianisten dahingetuschelter Sinatra-Verschnitt als Magier-Moderator hat Showklasse! Den Rest der Zeit lassen Stuarts versierte Darsteller immer wieder alle Hüllen und die Schranken des sogenannten guten Benehmens fallen. Anfangs stille, sinnlich-relaxende Passagen steigern sich zu eindeutig sexuellen Verhaltensweisen mit ekstatischen Zuständen. An sich (auch körperlich) Privates wird bewusst dem Voyeurismus ausgesetzt und in einem Break das Publikum wie alte Bekannte angegangen und mit diversen Angeboten (z.B. Snacks, Wohnungsschlüsseln oder Körperschweiß als Parfüm) überhäuft.

Die existenzialistische Arbeit der aus New Orleans stammenden Choreographin war seit 2010 ein fester Baustein in Johan Simons länder- und spartenübergreifender Cross-Over-Programmatik. Hier kreierte sie 2012 „Built to Last“. Nun heißt es, kurz vor dem gemeinsamen Aufbruch von Simons und Stuart zu den Ruhrfestspielen Recklinghausen, Abschiednehmen an den Kammerspielen von mit Tanz verquickten, stark körperlich-performativen Produktionen. Diese hatte man der Genre-Offenheit des scheidenden Intendanten und seinem auf besondere Künstler fokussierten Netzwerk zu verdanken. Beim Saisonendspurt geht es dabei Schlag auf Schlag.

Erst am 17. Juni wurde die letzte Münchner Aufführung von Alain Platels im Schauspielhaus uraufgeführtem Furorestück „Tauberbach“ – eine Einladung, Theater mit allen Sinnen zu erleben – noch einmal kräftig beklatscht. Einen Tag darauf: Meg Stuarts Uraufführung „UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP“. Eine krasse Herausforderung, herkömmliche (Erfahrungs-)Grenzen auf der Suche nach neuen, zwischenmenschlich besseren Begegnungsformen einzureißen. „Unsere Welt besteht aus Regeln. Diese gilt es zu verhandeln“, erklärt Stuart im Interview mit ihrem Dramaturgen Jeroen Versteele. Und dass es „manchmal nicht genug Bereitschaft gibt, albern und kreativ zu sein.“ Abhilfe soll ein esoterisch-aufgeladener Performance-Trip schaffen, für den das Ausstatter-Team Doris Dziersk (Bühne) und Nadine Grellinger (Kostüme) die Spielhalle in ein swingertaugliches, violettes Keller-Nachtclub-Ambiente mit schwarzem Sofa sowie einer zentralen, rautenförmig-lackglänzenden Spielfläche verwandelt haben.

Der Raum als Wohlfühlzone für Hemmungslosigkeit. Einmal drin, wird man schnell Teil einer freakigen Gemeinschaft, die sich zärtlich kost, magmaartig knuddelt, lustvoll balgt oder zu akrobatischen Fleischtürmen aufbaut, auf die nackte Haut des Andern schlägt bzw. dem Partner einen Tonkopf an die Birne modelliert, der anschließend auf dem Boden wieder zu erdiger Masse gemanscht wird. Den für städtische Theater ungewöhnlichen, hauptsächlich in Berlin (Stuarts Wahl-Heimat) stattfindenden Probenprozess haben u.a. Tantra- und Hypnose-Workshops bzw. Motivationsbegriffe wie Begierde, Verlangen, Intimität und Körpersicherheit bei totaler Nacktheit geprägt. Und die enge Zusammenarbeit mit dem jazzsoundgenialen Musikertrio Paul Lemp (Bass), Marc Lohr (Schlagzeug) und Stefan Rusconi (Klavier/Trompete). Wie klanglich dicht und dabei empfindsam die drei selbst persönlichkeitsentblößendste Situationen über zwei Stunden hinweg live und hinzuagierend begleiten, trägt entscheidend zum Gelingen des interaktionsfreudigen Abends bei. Durchaus vorhandene Längen werden so – im Wortsinn – gut überspielt und Energie, die in Extreme schießt, akustisch aufgefangen. Ihren Gästen freilich lässt Stuart keine Wahl. Goutiert werden muss, was ihre „Damaged Goods“ einsatzstark präsentieren. Das ist gut so! Und sehr typisch: dieses Spiel um Aggression und Verletzlichkeit, mit dem Stuart mal politische, mal soziale Strukturen bricht und den Betrachter aus seiner vermeintlich geschützten Bequemlichkeit rüttelt.

22 Sep 2015
Choreography of the exploration of the body

NRZ Der Westen
NRZ Der Westen, Choreography of the exploration of the body, Michael-Georg Müller

Three women and three men build towers and bridges with their bodies. In groups of three or four, they twist and entangle their bodies. It’s barely visible, which arms and legs belong to which face. Now they dance in colourful pants or sweaters, other times they’re topless or, later on, even stark naked. All this is not new. We’ve seen it before in many contemporary dance pieces. But in UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP, a piece by choreographer Meg Stuart, the dancers go further, sniffing each other and tickling their partner’s bare skin, making no difference between man or woman. The nose gets a run for its money; its urge to explore does not stop at the pubic border. Irony, parody, comedy and genuine feelings are mingled together in this sensuous composition of body images, that Meg Stuart is now presenting at PACT Zollverein as part of the Ruhrtriennale.

Meg Stuart doesn’t break boundaries; she crosses them in this cleverly composed performance that oscillates between a heated drum allegro and a trance-like piano. Here are two naked women, sitting in front of each other, their legs apart, tickling each other’s labia with their feet. Then there are three men, massaging each other’s abdomen, back and buttocks. But this piece, which goes on for two hours without a break, has nothing to do with voyeurism. As much as the performers play with each other’s limbs, they do so as innocent, silly children. Carelessly and naive, they run free, rub each other and throw each other around. Some of them frequently comment their own actions.

The way Meg Stuart engages the audience without making it feel uncomfortable is extraordinary. In a fully lit theatre, the spectators receive water, fruit and cake. They are offered clay to give their hand muscles a work out as the piece continues. Unrestrained, the performers talk to visitors, spray cologne or open their shirt and ask spectators to smell their sweat. The fact that they are willing to do so proves that Meg Stuart has succeeded in making the audience become a licentious partner in crime.

Jan 2015
Dancing beyond embarrassment

De Morgen
Pieter T'Jonck

Until Our Hearts Stop marks a fresh step in the research that the choreographer Meg Stuart has been engaged in for more than two decades. She tirelessly attempts to pin down the strange interplay between what we feel physically and what we experience mentally, and in so doing, she rarely leaves the viewer unmoved.

This research departs ever further from the shape of a classic ‘performance’. More and more, it is about experiments in which not only the performers, but also the spectators have a role to play. She regularly confronts viewers head on with the inherent difficulties of the human condition, which can leave them confused.

In Highway 101 (2000-2002), for example, she dragged the spectators through a building, before unexpectedly abandoning them to weirdos who went on to indulge in some embarrassing rants. People often had no idea how to behave. All Together Now (2005) tore up theatrical conventions still further. It began with the audience being packed into a space that was far too small, while a voice expressed disgust at the ensuing sweat and odours. It ended with a feel-good session in which everyone was entreated to hold hands. Some felt that they could have died of embarrassment.

But as ever, this is precisely her point: why do we hate it so much when other people come too close to us? Why do we long for others, yet bolt if someone comes closer? What can we tolereate from one another, and what not? This is endlessly fascinating to watch, as Stuart always manages to find fresh ways of exploring this theme, and never fails to unsettle.

The same is true of her new work UNTIL OUR HEARTS STOP. The piece wrong-foots you to such as extent that at a certain point half way through, you barely know whether you are coming or going. To the overpowering jazzy sounds of the trio Samuel Halscheidt, Marc Lohr and Stefan Rusconi, the six performers have already groped, stalked and made use of one another in every conceivable way.

It all begins with a strange yoga session, followed by an equally strange acrobatics exercise. After this, all six performers plonk themselves down on a sofa together. Whether out of boredom or embarrassment, they pick at one another until they are rolling over the floor in a knot of bodies. Two men become embroiled in a dogfight. Two women separate them, before immediately going on to attack one another with equal savagery - and stark naked - before winding up in an intimate embrace.

The fourth wall is breached
An hour of these edgy, absurd scenes culminates in a synchronous dance comprised of incomprehensible signals. Just as you have almost given up trying to understand it, the mood shifts. The spectators are suddenly involved in the action, whether they like it or not. The performers offer drinks and presents, sing birthday songs or stage a variety show. In the meantime, Kristof Van Boven may act as though he has been imprisoned behind glass, but the ‘fourth wall’ between the viewer and the performer has clearly been broken down.

The performance then takes a magical turn, both literally and figuratively, with conjuring tricks and a mysterious ritual involving incense and a drum roll. However, the mood is abruptly broken by the heartrending speech of a lone woman who endlessly begs for attention and love for her pitiful self. This is reminiscent of the weird, embarrassing figures that appeared in Highway 101.

Although you are aware that this is only theatre, it still makes you uncomfortable: with this scene, Meg Stuart holds up a mirror to us all. She illustrates how desperately we long for contact and attention, until our hearts stop. But you are left alone with that uncomfortable feeling, because the performance ends here. Until such time as Stuart comes to knit another chapter onto this endless tale.

22 Jan 2014
Radikale Körperforscherin
[ German ]
Andreas Tobler

Vier Jahre wirkte Meg Stuart in Zürich. Nun kehrt die 48-Jährige Choreographin mit zwei Stücken in die Schweiz zurück.

Nackt steht sie da. Mit einem Schlag, als hätte sie unser Blinzeln für ihren Auftritt genutzt. Aber das kann eigentlich nicht sein. Denn wir sind an diesem Abend ganz schön viele, die ins Centre Pompidou in Paris gekommen sind, um Meg Stuarts «Sketches/Notebook» zu sehen. Aber irgendwie hat es Meg Stuart doch geschafft: einen Auftritt aus dem Nichts. So etwas gelingt nur ihr: der grossen, unfassbaren, unnahbaren Choreografin. Für einen Moment sieht man den blossen Körper der 48-Jährigen, der deutliche Spuren ihrer harten Tanzarbeit trägt – bevor die Kostümbildnerin ihr eine Decke um den Rumpf bindet, ein Collier aus Deckenstoff um den Hals hängt, die Brustwarzen, später auch die Lippen und die Augenbrauen mit neonfarbigem Klebeband abdeckt. Mit jedem Kleidungs- und Klebstück wechseln die Intensität und der Ausdruck des unbewegten Körpers, den Stuart als Behälter versteht, durch den sie Emotionen und Bilder spülen kann, als würde eine Tiermeute durch sie hindurchjagen.
Eine Woche nach dem Gastspiel in Paris treffe ich Meg Stuart in einem kleinen Café in Berlin-Mitte. Stuarts Händedruck ist weich und warm wie ihre dunkle Stimme. «Zehn Jahre? Wirklich?», fragt sie. Man kann es selbst nicht so richtig glauben. Zu stark sind die Erinnerungen an ihre Zürcher Arbeiten, an «Alibi» und «Visitors Only», an «Highway 101» und «Forgeries, Love and Other Matters». Aber es ist nun tatsächlich bald zehn Jahre her, dass Meg Stuart zusammen mit Christoph Marthaler das Zürcher Schauspielhaus verliess.

Wenn Sprache scheitert

Die vier Jahre in Zürich waren wichtig für Meg Stuart: die künstlerische Nachbarschaft zu Regisseuren wie Marthaler und Stefan Pucher, die Räume des Schiffbaus, die sie mit ihren Stücken bespielen konnte, und die andere Perspektive des Sprechtheaters auf den Bereich zwischen Tanz und Theater, in dem Stuart ihre Arbeit verortet, also dort, wo ihr zufolge «Sprache scheitert und Bewegungen ihre Bedeutungen verlieren».

Als Marthaler seinen Hut nahm, war für Meg Stuart klar, dass auch sie Zürich verlassen wird – in Richtung Berlin, wo sie bis 2010 an Castorfs Volksbühne weiterarbeiten konnte. Meg Stuart lebt noch heute in Berlin – in der gleichen Strasse wie der Autor und Regisseur René Pollesch, der Bühnenbildner Bert Neumann und in der Nähe von Stefan Pucher, ihrem früheren Lebensgefährten, mit dem zusammen Stuart einen 11-jährigen Sohn hat. Meg Stuarts Compagnie, die Damaged Goods, ist dagegen etwas ortlos geworden: Das Management der Gruppe sitzt seit zwanzig Jahren in Brüssel, als wichtigste Produktionspartner sind die Münchner Kammerspiele und das Berliner HAU hinzugekommen. Das Produzieren zwischen München und Berlin hindert Meg Stuart aber nicht daran, aufwendige Stücke herauszubringen. Im Gegenteil. Seit dem Abschied von der Volksbühne sind weitere grosse Ensembleproduktionen entstanden, etwa «Built to Last», das in dieser Woche in Zürich zu sehen ist. Im März bringt sie mit «Hunter» zudem ein erstes abendfüllendes Solo heraus, das in Koproduktion mit der Gessnerallee entsteht und Ende Woche in Zürich zu sehen sein wird.
Sieht man sich Meg Stuarts jüngere Arbeiten an, kann man zur Überzeugung kommen, dass Marthalers Abschied für die Choreografin ein guter Moment war, um nochmals neu aufzubrechen. Denn als die Amerikanerin in Zürich war, gab es diesen starken Konsens, demzufolge sich Megs Stuarts Interesse auf gebrochene Körper und die Gliedmassen konzentriert, die ein geradezu perverses Eigenleben führen. Gewiss, das gab und gibt es alles, etwa in «Disfigure Study» von 1991, das Meg Stuarts Durchbruch in Europa markiert, oder in «Alibi», in dem ihre Damaged Goods minutenlang in einen Ganzkörpertremor verfielen – zwei Monate nach dem 11. September 2001. Und um den Körper geht es auch in «Hunter». Darin untersucht Meg Stuart ihren eigenen Leib als Archiv, «das von persönlichen und kulturellen Erinnerungen» belebt ist.

Momente der Öffnung

Fragen aufwerfen und diesen bis zum Äussersten nachgehen: Das ist der Grundimpuls von Meg Stuarts Arbeit. Dieser Impuls erlaubt aber nicht nur den Exzess, sondern gibt auch die Möglichkeit, die eigene Ästhetik immer wieder grundlegend zu verändern. Als es den Konsens gab, dass ihre Stücke autistische Kommunikationskrüppel zeigen, entstand «Maybe Forever», ein hauchfeines Duo von 2007, in dem sie mit Philipp Gehmacher ihren Körper den Versuchungen und den Vergeblichkeiten der Liebe hingab und in dem sie am Mikrofon den zärtlichsten Abschiedsmonolog formulierte, den man je auf einer Bühne hörte: «Als ich dir sagte, ich könnte nicht ohne dich leben? I take it back. Als ich sagte, ich wünschte, ich wäre du . . . Als ich sagte, ich wünschte . . . Als ich sagte, es sei heutzutage völlig unnötig, romantisch zu sein? I take it back.»

Es sind solche Momente der Öffnung und der Kommunikation, die es in den Zürcher Arbeiten von Meg Stuart nicht gab. In den jüngeren Stücken sind sie zentral, so auch in «Sketches/Notebook», in dem Meg Stuart während einer hoch gespannten Körperchoreografie vom Rand aus Murmeln auf den Boden schüttet, die von ihren Tänzern und den umsitzenden Zuschauern sofort aufgenommen und in einem kindlichen Spiel hin und her geschubst werden.

Vollgepumpt mit Musik

Ein Spiel in einem ganz anderen Sinne ist auch Meg Stuarts «Built to Last», ein Stück mit monumentaler Musik, das diese Woche in Zürich gastiert. Musik spielte schon immer eine wichtige Rolle bei Meg Stuart, etwa in «Violet» von 2011, in dem ihre Tänzer mit Industrialsound vollgepumpt wurden, oder in «Sketches/Notebook», in dem man als Zuschauer zum geloopten Thema von Spielbergs «Jurassic Park» den Saal betritt. In «Built to Last» geht es aber um ganz andere Musik, nämlich um Schlüsselwerke der Musikgeschichte – von Beethovens «Eroica» über die 9. Sinfonien von Dvorak und Bruckner bis zu Werken von Arnold Schönberg und Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Wie geht das zusammen? Diese ernste, quasi heilige Musik und der zeitgenössische Tanz, in dem man vor fünfzig Jahren damit aufhörte, den Körper und seine Bewegungen zu heroisieren, als Yvonne Rainer und die anderen Mitglieder des Judson Dance Theater banale Bewegungen in ihr Tanzvokabular aufnahmen? Das geht nur zusammen, weil Meg Stuart dem Abstand zwischen dem Tanz und der Musik Rechnung trägt – und mit ihm spielt, etwa dann, wenn in «Built to Last» die unspektakulären Bewegungen von Yvonne Rainers «Trio A» auf die Bühne kommen, wenn ihr Ensemble im Liegen ein mechanisches Armballett zu Dvoraks Sinfonie exerziert, wenn eine Tänzerin zu Bruckners Neunter auf einem Baucontainer durch das bedrohlich drehende Planetenmobile geschoben wird. Oder wenn das ganze Ensemble zu Beethovens «Eroica» im Kreis einen Trauermarsch performt, der so perfekt wirkt, weil er mit einer stupenden Lässigkeit auf die Bühne kommt und weil er – wie das ganze Stück – alles Monumentale in entspannter Leichtigkeit aufhebt. Der ideologische und intellektuelle Ballast fällt ab von der Musik; das Ernste und Erhabene an ihr wird heiter, leicht und erhebend. Und genau dieses dekonstruktive Spiel, das nichts Denunziatorisches hat, macht Meg Stuart und ihr «Built to Last» so gross.

15 Aug 2014
Choreografin des Jahres Meg Stuart (2014)
[ German ]
Elena Phillip

Meg Stuart als Jägerin in eigener Sache: Hunter


Hunter ist ihr erstes abendfüllendes, von ihr selbst gezeigtes Solo. Ein persönliches Inventar, voller Bewegungen und Ausdrucksmittel, voller Zitate und Ideen künstlerischer Vorbilder, voller Familiengeschichten und Erinnerungen. Skulptur, Ritual und Selbstporträt zugleich. Stuart spricht von einem Verdauungsvorgang – einer Verarbeitung all der Einflüsse, die ihre Psyche und Physis durchziehen. Hunter ist das intime Gegenstück zur ihrer Recherche in Monumentalität, Built to Last (2012), die sie selbst als kollektives Archiv beschreibt. Nun steht sie also alleine auf der Bühne. Scheinbar alleine, muss man sagen – ist sie in Hunter doch umhüllt von den Schöpfungen ihrer Co-Kreateure, teils langjähriger Weggefährten wie Barbara Ehnes (Bühne), Claudia Hill (Kostüme), Jan Maertens (Licht), Vincent Malstaf (Sound), Jeroen Peeters (Dramaturgie) und Chris Kondek (Video). Ausgesetztsein und Geborgenheit: Hunter spiegelt eine der binären Oppositionen wider, die Meg Stuarts Werk durchziehen.


Spielräume hat Meg Stuart genug, ebenso die Energie, sie zu erkunden, auch wenn sie mitunter fragil, fast durchscheinend wirkt. In Hunter, ihrer persönlichen Tanzbilanz, beschwört sie noch einmal die Geister der Vergangenheit, aber auf versöhnliche Weise. Die Erfahrung existenzieller Geworfenheit, die so viele ihrer Arbeiten kennzeichnet, wirkt gemildert, und die Bühnenwelt scheint bisweilen in das Licht eines sommerlichen Spätnachmittags getaucht. Hunter ist zwar ein Abschluss, aber zugleich ein Neubeginn – ein Durchgangsstadium und Sammelpunkt von Energien. Für kommende Abstecher auf andere Wahrnehmungsebenen.

27 Mar 2014
Mikroskopische Tänze
[ German ]
Franziska Buhre

Mit exakten Schritten und perfektem Schwung geht Choreografin Meg Stuart in Berlin selbst auf die Bühne.

Bei ihrem Soloauftritt in Berlin seziert Meg Stuart ihren Körper auf der Bühne. Die Spiele der Muskeln, die zeitliche Perfektion: all das zusammen wirkt atemberaubend leidenschaftlich und dabei klinisch sauber. Eine Studie über das Wesen des Körpers.

Unter dem dunkelblauen T-Shirt kündigen die Wölbungen rund um die Schultern bereits Sprungbereitschaft an: Das Muskelmassiv in der Schulterregion ist deutlich sichtbar nach Meg Stuarts fordernder Tanzpraxis geformt. Die Choreografin fordert sich selbst Entgrenzung ab und überschreitet die Schwelle zum Monströsen, zu den Abgründen menschlichen Seins ohne eine Spur von Angst.

Diese Tour de Force bereitet sie in Hunter, ihrem neuesten Solo, zunächst sorgfältig vor:
Mit dem Rücken zum Publikum sitzend werden ihre Hände auf Stoffbahnen im hinteren Teil der Bühne projiziert. Auf einer Drehscheibe collagiert sie Kinderfotos und Zeitungsabbildungen, arrangiert diese schließlich senkrecht und lässt sie rotieren.

Was dieses Karussell voller Erinnerungssplitter in Miniatur ist, stellt das Bühnenbild groß im Raum dar. Unter einem Metallgestänge, das bis ins Publikum ragt, leuchtet ein heller Tanzboden aus Holz. Meg Stuart erforscht diese leere Fläche als Ansammlung von persönlichen Erinnerungsräumen, die sich abwechseln, einander überlagern oder voneinander abstoßen.

Inmitten von Kinderstimmen, Eltern- und Großelternstimmen, fernen Echos aus Musikstücken und mäandernden Klangspuren, mit denen Vincent Malstaf den Tanzboden umgibt, überlässt sich Meg Stuart dem Strudel ihres Körpergedächtnisses.

Eine Choreografie, die sich mehrmals zu sehen lohnt

Die sorgsam entblößten Unterarme irrlichtern im Verbund mit ihrem hellblonden Haarschopf vom Brustkorb weg in die Höhe. Sie umfangen den Kopf und scheinen von außen angetrieben und nicht aus den Schultergelenken der Choreografin selbst. Während sie rückwärts geht, erscheint ihr Oberkörper aufgespalten in viele durchpulste Zentren. Urplötzlich durchzuckt ein tonloses Lachen ihren Leib von oben bis unten, dämonische Fratzen huschen über ihr Gesicht. Auch in den aufreibendsten Sequenzen ist ihr Atem nicht zu hören, und so sieht man nicht länger den Körper einer konkreten Person, sondern verschiedene Aggregatzustände menschlicher Körperlichkeit. Zu den Techniken der Entgrenzung, die Meg Stuart bis in die kleinste Geste choreografiert, gehört die Wiederholung – mal als hochbeschleunigtes Beben, mal als wiederholte Suche einer Hand nach dem Gesicht.

Meg Stuart hat ein atemberaubendes Gespür für die Zeitlichkeit von Bewegung. Zögern und wieder ansetzen, durch eine Sequenz gleiten und sich in der nächsten den Blicken der Zuschauer aussetzen – so viele Schattengestalten Meg Stuart im Verlauf von "Hunter" auch annimmt, blitzt ebenso unterschwellig ihr Humor auf. Ein voluminöses Kleid aus bunten Flicken wird zur absurden Behausung, eine meterlange Kunsthaarperücke zur weichen Decke. Die blanke Wirbelsäule erinnert in wenigen Sekunden an Stuarts Zentralorgan der Verwandlung, mit der Schere in der Hand findet sie in einer der Videoprojektionen andere Routen durch ihr T-Shirt am Körper.

Die schiere Präsenz von Meg Stuart entfaltet auf der Bühne eine ergreifende Sogwirkung.

Und obwohl sie viele ihrer Körperstadien durch die Wiederholung erreicht, ist es, als sehe man jede Bewegung im Augenblick ihres Entstehens zum ersten Mal. Wie Meg Stuart unbedingte Körperlichkeit in das raumzeitliche Gefäß einer Choreografie gießt, ist ohne Beispiel im zeitgenössischen Tanz. Hunter ist ein Stück zum Immer-wieder-Sehen.

28 Mar 2014
The crack in my body

Sandra Luzina

Hebbel am Ufer: The dancer and choreographer Meg Stuart performs her first evening length solo Hunter.

‘People say that I’m shy.’ This is how Meg Stuart begins her monologue, turning to face the public with some trepidation. The American choreographer, who has been living in Berlin for several years now, has created her first evening length solo at the age of 49. Hunter is a search for, and a testing of, yourself – and undoubtedly Stuart’s most personal creation to date. With her unremitting distortions and displacements she proves, yet again, the expressive power of the body.
However, the evening’s big surprise is that Meg Stuart herself reads aloud a lengthy text – and at the end even goes as far as to sing. She explains her so-called embarrassment: ‘I have not trusted words for a long time.’

And then she begins to talk: about her parents, who were both directors and who ran a community theatre. ‘I have seen so many bad actors’, she admitted, ‘that I promised myself never to say a word on stage.’

The performance is about the memories that have brought her to this point, and that she has poured into words. Meg Stuart explores how experiences leave their imprints on your body – a constantly recurring theme with her.

In Hunter, she again opts for a multimedia approach and works with a range of materials. At the beginning we see her sitting at a table, lost in thought, cutting up black and white photos from her personal photo album and then arranging the cuttings. In one photo, the faces of a mother and child are replaced by animal heads; other photos are painted over with nail varnish, or have shiny paper stuck on top of them. The soundtrack is a collage of different musical works, sounds and voices.
Two women speak about the fallout from a divorce, another woman reports on a feminist who tries and fails to ruffle a playboy bunny. A broken male voice lectures about the need for change. Private life and philosophy, humour and profundity go hand in hand.

The scenographer Barbara Ehnes has built a spacious construction for Meg Stuart, constructed from Plexiglas and metal tubes, which covers the stage like a screen. As a result, the space is already alive with meaning when Meg Stuart finally takes to the stage. She then lies down on the ground and starts, as though she is charged with electricity. Her body is under huge pressure. She flounders and shakes, throws her arms around and jumps up. She is totally subject to the uncontrolled movements of her body. In Hunter it is as though her insides are being torn. The variation in her syntax of movement is unique. The scene in which she only uses her arms is overwhelming. Her arms begin to lead a disturbing life of their own. They knot together, become entwined, break free again and only allow themselves to calm down when they are forced to do so. Creating phantasmagorias of the body that are so grotesque and amusing is Meg Stuart’s greatest strength.

In the flickering projections, you see the father, or the young daughter showing off her first dance steps. Chris Kondek’s videos have an almost surreal effect. They show Meg Stuart revolving as if in a trance, or a Stuart who is exploring her body as if it were a strange object. Meg Stuart moves between extremely divergent emotional states. For example, she suddenly sinks into an extremely colourful patchwork tent with a series of side-arms. Childhood is never completely over. At a different point, she takes to the stage with her upper body bared, hiding behind a long, blonde wig.

Meg Stuart is one of the most influential choreographers of the contemporary dance scene. Since she has been linked to HAU Hebbel am Ufer as an artist in residence, her career has once again been given a boost. Her creations can now be seen regularly, and are almost always sold out. In Hunter she now shows that she is not only a collector, but also a hunter. She picks up the things she finds and digs into the deepest layers of memory. The evening is a little like a séance, but its painful obsessiveness diminishes at the end. The dancer accepts her past, which has a liberating effect. She concludes with an amusing speech in which she sends all those shamans, life coaches and craniosacral therapists packing.

Translation Helen Simpson

28 Mar 2014
The choreographic principle of the collage

die tageszeitung
Katrin Bettina Müller

DANCE The sum of different parts: in her solo Hunter at HAU2, Meg Stuart examines the concept of the body as an archive full of memories

It’s a minor sensation: twenty years after founding her company Damaged Goods, the choreographer Meg Stuart is on stage alone all evening for the first time.

The premiere in HAU 2 of Hunter (that will also be performed in Essen, Venice, Geneva, Zürich and Brussels) was a meeting place for many who had brought her fascinating early works like appetite, Visitor’s only and Alibi to Berlin as curators in the late nineties, or who had breathlessly followed them as colleagues, critics or spectators.

In short, she danced for a crowd of Meg Stuart fans. She rewarded their loyalty with a performance that once again personally highlights her style and her unique ability to create moods. Cutting; tearing; daubing; turning on unusual axes; creating new compositions; distorting and accelerating. These are the techniques that you often see in her choreographies, used alongside everyday movements and dance movements. However, for the first time, she also applies this approach to images. With her back to the audience, Meg Stuart sits at a table messing around with scissors, felt tips, glue, photo clippings and other fragments of memory. A camera projects this, much enlarged, onto a piece of fabric. Everything recognisable changes continually in front of our eyes.

This principle of a collage already alludes to Meg Stuart’s astonishing talent: her ability to use unusual accents to transform her own body into something where individual limbs, for example hands and arms, can lead their own lives. She starts to dance in swinging, shocking movements to a soundscape consisting of all kinds of sound fragments that change in under a second. The movements become mechanical, graceful, fragile and aggressive. The most contradictory emotions and situations are brought together in a highly compact way. Even though they are impossible to name, the movements do not appear abstract. Time and time again, they approach a form of emotional expression or physical state.

The battle for memories that simply do not want to become clear is a dramatic element that plays out here in the unique and fragile body of the choreographer. Super 8 family films and childhood photos are regularly beamed onto a series of projection surfaces. The voices of an old man and an old woman who are trying to express in detail the way things once were can also be heard. At the end, Meg Stuart takes a purring projector whose speed has been adjusted incorrectly, and the snowy image it projects creates an eventful void. Slowly the image moves to the ceiling and fades out. Such expressive visual and acoustic elements create a reference context for the dance. As well as allusions to the biographical and the personal, there are images of burning houses or bleeding mouths whipping past at high speed. What makes many of Meg Stuart’s creations so exceptional is this fascination with the catastrophic, the panicky, and the uncertainty about the ground beneath our feet. But the difference this time lies in the embarrassment and the toughness, the vulnerability and the violence as facets of one person; as a part of her past.

Lighting (Jan Maertens), sound design (Vincent Malstaf), scenography (Barbara Ehnes) and video (Chris Kondek) combine to create a space that is not so much a solitary environment, but a tiny fragment of a universe: a world filled with private moments and more universal events. In this world, objects – such as a gleaming foil that changes colour in different lights – connect with the dancer to form moving installations. This creates the effect of seeing, and at the same time not seeing, her body, and the balling of the light that can expand into a space. It is all rather ominous, a little unworldly, and over before you know it.

Translation Helen Simpson

28 Mar 2014
In Fellstiefeln singt Meg Stuart sogar
[ German ]
Berliner Zeitung
Michaela Schlagenwerth

Die Choreografin Meg Stuart rüstet sich für die Erkundung der eigenen Vergangenheit: „Wenn wir keine Erinnerung hätten, was würden wir dann träumen?“

Meg Stuart begibt sich in ihrer Soloperformance „Hunter“ im Hau 2 auf Spurensuche und wird fündig. Es ist eine lange und dichte Erinnerungsfahrt, auf die einen Stuart mitnimmt. Gegen Ende erzählt sie dabei tatsächlich von sich selbst.

Wenn man auf die fünfzig zugeht, beginnt sich das Verhältnis zu den eigenen Erinnerungen zu verändern. Die Eltern sind krank, vielleicht sogar schon gestorben. Aber selbst wenn es ihnen gut geht, weiß man, dass sie alt sind und dass der Tod bald kommen wird. Bis jetzt bildeten sie so etwas wie das Dach der Vergangenheit, jetzt muss man sich selbst eines bauen. Im Hau 2 hat das die amerikanische, schon lange in Berlin lebende Choreografin Meg Stuart in ihrer ersten großen Soloperfomance „Hunter“ getan. Sie hat sich eine Erinnerungsbude gebaut.

Eine sehr durchlässige, bestehend aus einer Plexiglassäule und diversen Metallverstrebungen, aber der Überwurf für dieses Zelt fehlt. Vielleicht ist das in dieser großartigen, eineinhalbstündigen Performance die beste Metapher für das, was mit unserer Erinnerung passiert: Die Konstruktion steht noch, aber ohne Überwurf ist es kein Zelt mehr, in das man kriechen, geborgen sein kann. Nur einzelne Dinge hängen an den Stangen, Kostüme, die man für kurze Momente überzieht.

Ganz am Anfang des Stücks saß Stuart an einem Schneidetisch, der ähnlich wie die Bühnenkonstruktion bestückt war. Auf die große Bühnenrückwand übertragen konnte man zuschauen, wie Stuart Yoko Ono einen hippiesken Glitzerstein auf die Stirn klebte, alte Fotos von Mutter und Vater zerschnippelte, alles eng aneinander schob, unter das Bild eines kleinen Jungen trockene Blätter schichtete und es anzündete.

"I am shy"

Es ist eine lange und dichte Erinnerungsfahrt, auf die einen Stuart mitnimmt. Gegen Ende wird sie dabei tatsächlich von sich selbst erzählen. „I am shy“, beginnt sie, noch hinter einem transparenten Tuch stehend. An der Rückwand hat sie die Kleidung gewechselt. Sie ist jetzt mit Fellstiefeln ausgerüstet und einer orangenen Steppweste, sie hat noch einiges vor. Denn Meg Stuart ist tatsächlich schüchtern.
Unvorstellbar dass sie sich in einem ihrer frühen Arbeiten auf die Bühne gestellt, und von sich selbst erzählt hätte. Trotz ihrer Gastspiele rund um die Welt musste sie zu Interviews regelrecht getragen werden. Aber so ist es, wenn man älter wird, wenn man die Dinge nur noch selbst erledigen kann. „Wenn man mich kennt“, sagt Stuart, stockt, „na ja, dann bin ich immer noch schüchtern.“

Meg Stuart ist mit ihren Arbeiten seit über zwanzig Jahren in Berlin präsent. Ihr Stück „No longer readymade“, 1993 beim Tanz im August ebenfalls im Hau 2 (damals noch Theater am Halleschen Ufer) uraufgeführt, war für Alle, die dabei waren, ein Markstein, eine Wendepunkt im Verständnis davon, was Tanz sein kann. Lange bevor Bücher wie Ehrenburgs „Das erschöpfte Selbst“ oder Sennetts „Der flexible Mensch“ auf den Markt kamen, zeigte Stuart dissoziierte Wesen, deren Körperteile auseinander zu fallen schienen. Sie hat danach an der Deutschen Oper produziert, gemerkt, dass sie die „große“ Karriere und die großen Bühnen nicht interessieren, war in Berlin später für einige Jahre Artist in Residence bei Frank Castorf in der Volksbühne.

Aber um all das geht es nicht in „Hunter“, sondern um Erinnerungen an die Kindheit und die jugendlichen Jahre. „Louise Bourgeois wurde 98 Jahre“, sagt Stuart irgendwann, „und immer ging es in ihrer Kunst um ihre Kindheit. Hat sie denn in den anderen 70 Jahren nichts erlebt?“
Meg Stuart ist die Tochter zweiter Theaterdirektoren. Man sieht alte Fotos von einem Kind mit Maske, Hut und Kimono, das auf einem Hügel steht und weit die Arme ausbreitet. Auf beiden Seiten der Bühne sind hölzerne Buchten angebracht in denen Fotos und alte Videoaufnahmen flimmern (Bühne: Barbara Ehnes, Video: Chris Kondek), aus den Boxen tönt ein unaufhörlicher Mahlstrom an Tönen und Geräuschen.

Halbnackt zwischen Zotteln vergraben

William S. Bouroughs meint man zu erkennen, Sätze von den Beatles. Auf der rechten Seite sieht man ein kurzes Video, ein Strand, vielleicht Kalifornien, aus dem Auto heraus auf schwarz-weiß gedreht. Meg Stuart entledigt sich einem Teil ihrer Kleidung und beginnt ein Ungetüm an ineinander genähten Anoraks anzuziehen, die an Zelte und verregnete Ferien denken lassen. In der Holzbucht räkelt sich im Scherenschnitt eine Schöne, Stuart klemmt sich einen ausgestopften pinkfarbenen Anorak-Arm zwischen die Beine und unwillkürlich scheint ein Bild auf von der Pubertät, von Ferienzeit und ersten Lieben.

Zu Beginn der Performance, nachdem Stuart ihren Schneide- und Basteltisch verlassen hatte, zuckte, dehnte, drehte sich der Körper in alle Richtungen und ein dichter elektronischer Mix vibrierte durch den Raum. Man stellte sich auf einen sehr anstrengenden Abend ein, aber es war das nur das in Gang setzen des Mahlstroms, aus dem wie Blasen die einzelnen Erinnerungen platzen und körperlich, wirklich werden.

In ihrer Kindheit hat Meg Stuart soviele schlechte Schauspieler erlebt, dass sie selbst auf der Bühne nie sprechen wollte. Jetzt hat man sie sogar singen gehört. Und gesehen, wie sie das wirklich verlegen macht. Zwischendurch war Stuart halbnackt zwischen Zotteln vergraben. Wo fängt die eigene Erinnerung an, wo hört sie auf? Wenn wir keine Erinnerung hätten, fragt Stuart, was würden wir dann träumen?

10 Mar 2014
[ French ]
Jean-Marc Adolphe

Cette folle générosité. Un festin, comme rarement offert sur un plateau – en l’occurrence, ce jour-là, de décembre 2013, celui du Centre Pompidou, où les spectateurs ont été invités à prendre place, à toucher de regard des danseurs, musiciens, acteurs, performeurs. Cela, qui s’affranchit de la frontalité, n’est certes pas nouveau en soi, tant de postures participatives s’y sont déjà frottées. Ce soir-là, pourtant, comme encore jamais vu. Car ce qui s’éprouve peut avoir de joyeux, loin de toutes les pénibilités des épreuves que nous endurons au quotidien – n’éclate pas seulement l’espace frontal de la représentation, mais fait éclat de tout, présences, images, mouvements, musiques, respirations, solitudes et compagnie. Un théâtre des corps en jeu, totalement total, en quelque sorte, mais faisant tout autant feu follet d’une totalité totalisante, ne cessant ici de s’échapper, de se dévergonder, de s’éclater. Impossible de tout saisir, la sarabande est multiple. Tout un art de disperser les signes, réinventant chacun d’eux en radical genèse ; mais dispersion que d’invisibles fils gardent en tension commune. Une énergie collective, en ses singularités irrépressibles.

Dire cette générosité dépensière, à rebours de tous les désenchantements (mais les sachant, pourtant), à contre-courant de tous les conceptualismes éventuellement « non dansants » (mais les ingérant, et même, les dévorant goulument), suffirait à manifester en quoi que Sketches/Notebook de Meg Stuart fait événement. « Il y aurait quasiment une prise de risque dans l’option de donner du plaisir », dit la chorégraphe dans l’entretien qui suit. En effet. Mais l’enjouement n’est pas simple divertissement, le plaisir donné est ici vécu et partagé sur un mode de vivace intelligence neuronale, dans la multiplicité des connexions libératoires, spatiotemporelles, corporelles et mentales.

Cent ans tout juste après Le sacre du printemps, de Nijinski et Stravinski, et sur un autre versant, la Danse de la sorcière de Mary Wigman, Sketches/Notebook, de Meg Stuart, inaugure la danse d’un nouveau siècle / nouveau millénaire. Pas moins. Œuvre profondément matricielle qui rebat les règles du jeu esthétique, en se souvenant de toutes les figures défigurées qui ont précédé, comme des territoires dévastés sur lesquels il a fallu reconstruire le sens *. No Longer Readymade, disait / dansait Meg Stuart en 1993, en transit entre New York et l’Europe. Une fois que tout a été déconstruit, que tout objet a pu être exposé dans sa nudité intrinsèque d’objet, voici enfin venu le temps de re-composer identités et possibles d’un corps collectif, non idéologiques, qui font encore tenir au monde. Sketches/Notebook donne impulsion et direction au chemin qui s’accomplit, malgré toutes frontières et clôtures.

*Allusions à Disfigure Study (1991), mi avec lequel Meg Stuart à été découverte en Europe, etau project Crash Landing (1996 – 1999), projet d’improvisation conçu et monté par Christine De Smedt, David Hernandez et Meg Stuart, qui s’est déroulé dans cinq villes à la fin du XXe siècle.

27 Mar 2014
The worlds of Meg Stuart

Die Deutsche Bühne
Anna Volkland

Meg Stuart mistrusts words. She says so herself. If you don’t want to, or cannot, stay silent, you had better take your time. It is worth trying to use many words, and expressing them as if each were of equal importance. You can incorporate images, sounds, movements and materials in this. You can show a great deal of all sorts of things behind, beside and layered on top of one another; mix fiction and truth, documents and moods, memories and dreams, the visible and the invisible, your own thoughts and those of others. The key thing about Hunter is its idiosyncrasy, which it approaches in multiple phases. Or rather, the opportunity to get to know Meg Stuart’s idiosyncrasy. Meg Stuart as an artist, as a woman, and as a human being invites us to discover the world from the perspective of her questions and positions, but at the same time, to understand their origins. ‘I think that changing one’s mind is one of the best things there is’ we hear Jonas Mekas’ voice assert, more than an hour and a half into the performance. This is easy, indeed very easy to understand.

For over twenty years, Meg Stuart has been working in the fields of dance and theatre on projects with a wide variety of forms and performance formats. However, Hunter is the first solo she has created for herself that is designed to fill a whole evening. The idea of a solo, especially in the field of dance, can rapidly lead you astray. Hunter certainly does not herald Meg Stuart’s conversion to the small scale. Her announcement that she intends to study her body as if it were an archive is also misleading. Body memory, so personal and difficult to share, is Meg Stuart’s starting point in a search for hope, community and utopias. One can argue in many respects that Hunter is major piece and leans towards a Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art].

In addition to the choreography on the stage, a number of other artists were involved with Hunter. The dramaturge Jeroen Peeters provided the audience with two pages of text that are very much worth reading and keeping. The text contains all sorts of expressions of the creative process, and draws on the ideas of Charlotte Selver, Yoko Ono, Miranda July and many others. The sound designer Vincent Malstaf designed a collage of sounds, lieder (chiefly from the 80s) and electronic music. This provides a structure for the performance and also perhaps for the house in which Meg Stuart paces about. It is an overcrowded house that does not actually do anything, apart from continually recounting stories. This both amuses and disturbs us. It alternates between silence and howling. The scenographer Barbara Ehnes constructed a giant sculpture made of extra large craft materials on the HAU2 stage. And sure enough, the evening begins with a glitter, moss and photo collage of Meg Stuart herself. The costume designer Claudia Hill worked on the same principle: there must be a lot of everything, meanings cannot be pinned down into fixed categories, and every phase of the performance demands that the performer be presented differently. The lighting designer Jan Maertens shaped the opening or (protective) closing off of the stage, and the possibilities of seeing and being seen. And last but not least, the video artist Chris Kondek used the three projection surfaces for a montage of photos and video recordings. He created a composition using clippings, raw material, and overlapping images, often of people and often of landscapes. Although it actually revolves around autobiographical documents, outsiders, who know nothing and no one, do not understand its true character.

Hunter’s décor is both playful and secretive, a rhizome. There is apparently no hierarchical structure between the elements and their meanings. Coincidentally, what this world shows and tells us is just like the world in our heads. At the same time, the evening is highly structured. A well-prepared programme comes to fruition, and the décor does not obscure this.

Phase one: handicraft session with Meg Stuart, live broadcast of detailed recordings, private- and other photos, and manipulation of the visual material. Later, Meg Stuart says: ‘I don’t believe that my father still has a good memory, because he’s forever telling his stories over and over again.’ It is some time before we see Meg Stuart’s face. She stands, walks, kneels down, does not dance and does not look in front of her. And even when she does look at the audience, we can barely see her face. Hair, hands or arms block our view. The first movements look like clichés, or extremely compact extracts from her own choreographies. In the meantime, she gives the impression of being distraught. She paces about.

Phases three and four, or five; in any case the final one: Meg Stuart gets dressed again. Eventually, at last, she has really danced. In silence, she improvises with dance material and changes her expression numerous times. For specific, extremely short moments, she is totally relaxed and happy. There is a lot you could say about this. But now only the following can be said: everything that happened up to this moment was necessary. So Meg Stuart can now put on a lifejacket and pin on a microphone. The first thing we hear her say is: ‘I am shy.’ Anyone who has known her for a while … hmm … still thinks so. Meg Stuart as an entertainer. Surprising. She goes on to talk in an increasingly less desperate way about all sorts of things. She makes no distinction between the intimate and the public, between the banal and the visionary. She asks about our future. There is nothing to suggest that there is any kind of calculation behind her words. This is not often the case, and it is thus extraordinary. It touches us, but in a totally unsentimental way – and will also irritate some people. It was a very special evening, a gift.

Translation Helen Simpson

27 Mar 2014
Les mondes de Meg Stuart
[ French ]
Die Deutsche Bühne
Anna Volkland

Meg Stuart se méfie des mots. Elle le dit elle-même. Et une bonne tentative, lorsque l’on ne peut ou ne veut pas se taire, est de prendre le temps et l’espace pour créer ces phrases. En même temps, il ne faut pas oublier toutes ces choses importantes que sont les images, les sons, les mouvements, les matériaux. Surtout ne pas omettre de les relier entre elles et de toutes les manières qu’il soit afin d’entremêler fiction et réalité, documents et atmosphères, souvenirs et rêves, visible invisible, pensées des autres et personnelles. Il s’agit avant tout d’une individualité, abordée dans « HUNTER » au cours de différentes phases narratives. Ou, plus exactement, « HUNTER » nous donne la possibilité de côtoyer la singularité de Meg Stuart. En tant qu’artiste, femme et être vivant, Meg Stuart nous invite dans cette pièce à comprendre les questions qui la traversent mais aussi à en découvrir les répercussions possibles. « Je pense qu’influer sur l’esprit de quelqu’un est l’une des meilleures choses qui puisse exister » entend-on Jonas Mekas constater après plus d’une heure et demie de spectacle, une phrase qui fait plus que du bien à entendre.

Depuis plus de vingt ans, Meg Stuart évolue dans le domaine de la danse et du théâtre et ses projets ont eu des formes et des formats très divers. « HUNTER » constitue sa première pièce en solo et conçue pour l’auteur elle-même. L’idée d’un solo, d’autant plus dans la catégorie « Danse », entraîne sur une fausse piste. « HUNTER » n’est en aucun cas un détournement de l’artiste vers un format plus modeste. Même l’annonce de vouloir explorer son corps en tant qu’archive peut induire en erreur : l’idée d’une mémoire corporelle individuelle difficile à partager avec d’autres est pour Meg Stuart le point de départ à une recherche d’espoir, de l’être-ensemble et des utopies. On peut ainsi, à différents égards, considérer « HUNTER » comme une grande œuvre, proche d’une œuvre d’art totale.
Aux côtés de la chorégraphe ont travaillé, parmi d’autres, le dramaturge Jeroen Peeters, qui s’est chargé de donner au texte sa puissance narrative en réunissant les remarques nées des répétitions et de réunir les pensées de Charlotte Selver, Yoko Ono, Miranda July et de bien d’autres, ainsi que le designer sonore Vincent Malstaf, dont les collages produits à partir de documents acoustiques, les chansons (en particulier celles des années 1980), la musique électronique et les sons constituent en quelque sorte la ligne directrice de cette performance. Le lieu même de la représentation, une salle pleine à craquer où Meg Stuart erre à sa guise, est propice à ces expérimentations, et ce que l’artiste raconte, s’amuse, s’inquiète, se taise ou vocifère. La décoratrice Barbara Ehnes a créé pour la scène du HAU2 une sculpture en longueur composée de gigantesques éléments bricolés. D’ailleurs, la pièce débute sur cette sculpture alliée à un photocollage de paillettes et de mousses de Meg Stuart. La costumière Claudia Hill a aussi suivi ce principe qui permet d’échapper à des catégories prédéterminées. Chaque phase de la performance nécessite ainsi un autre « emballage » de l’artiste. Le travail de l’éclairagiste Jan Maertens révèle une attention portée à l’ouverture ou au cloisonnement (protecteur) de l’espace théâtral ainsi qu’aux possibilités offertes par le regard et « l’être regardé ». Tout particulièrement, la vidéo de l’artiste Chris Kondek, jouée sur trois écrans et alliant photographies et prises de vue filmées se caractérise par un assemblage de rognures, de matériaux bruts, d’images superposées, de personnes et de paysages. Le non-initié ne reconnaît ni rien ni personne. Pourtant, on aurait pensé que les films servaient à fixer une réalité.

L’environnement de « HUNTER » est aussi joué qu’énigmatique, un véritable rhizome. Il n’y a apparemment aucune hiérarchie dans les objets montrés et les sens suggérés. Ce que ce monde nous démontre et nous raconte est similaire à celui qui régit nos esprits. Mais en même temps, la soirée est clairement structurée autour d’un programme précis.

Phase 1 : Bricoler avec Meg Stuart, retransmission en direct de détails filmés, de clichés privés et autres, manipulation du matériel visuel. Plus tard, Meg Stuart nous dit qu’elle ne pense pas que son père se souvienne encore vraiment, surtout quand il raconte les mêmes histoires. Cela dure un bon moment jusqu’à ce que nous voyions Meg Stuart de face. Elle est debout, s’avance, s’agenouille, ne danse pas. Pour ne pas regarder devant. Et même quand elle le fait, on aperçoit à peine son visage, dissimilé par ses cheveux, ou bien ses mains, ou bien ses bras. Les premiers mouvements ressemblent à des idées reçues sur ses propres chorégraphies. On pourrait aussi les définir comme des « extraits comprimés ». Entre chacun de ces moments, Meg Stuart semble désemparée, perdue.

Phase 3 ou 4 ou 5 (dans tous les cas, la dernière) : Meg Stuart se change. En guise de conclusion, elle a enfin vraiment dansé, en silence, improvisé à partir de mouvements précis et changé d’expressions un nombre incalculable de fois. Il y a eu des moments durant lesquels elle se relâchait et renvoyait une image heureuse. Des moments fugaces. On pourrait en dire beaucoup, mais pour l’instant, on peut seulement dire que tout ce qui est arrivé jusqu’à ce point était indispensable, sur quoi Meg Stuart enfile un gilet de sauvetage, met une oreillette et ….
« On aurait dit qu’elle était timide ». Ce sont les premiers mots que l’on entend, tandis qu’elle se tient, loin, derrière un rideau de gaze. Quand on la connaît depuis plus longtemps… hm… on pense encore et toujours la même chose. Meg Stuart dans le rôle d’une oratrice. Étonnant. Elle parle ensuite, toujours détendue, de divers thèmes et sans différencier l’intime du public, entre banalités et visions. Elle s’interroge sur notre futur. Il n’y aucune raison de présumer une intention quelconque derrière les mots prononcés. C’est tellement rare et inhabituel que cela touche (insensiblement). Beaucoup en sont même manifestement irrités. Cette soirée aura été très particulière, telle un cadeau.

Traduction Eléonore Muhidine

25 Sep 2014
[ German ]
Thierry Frochaux

Meg Stuart unternimmt in ihrem Solo Hunter das Wagnis einer Selbstreflexion, die sich über ein gesamtes Leben als mittlerweile gefeierte Künstlerin erstreckt. Ein hochphilosophisches Unterfangen, das in der intellektuellen Nachbearbeitung den fast grösseren Spass bereitet als das bare Zusehen.

Hunter ist sehr stark intuitiv und assoziativ und von fast schon tröstlicher Gewissheit, dass selbst jemand wie Meg Stuart, die es sich gewohnt ist, künstlerisch mit Tatsachen und Aussagen umzugehen, es nicht schafft, ein Leben, das keinem schematisch vorgegebenen und konsequent durchgezogenen Karriereplan folgt, selbst im Nachhinein als gerade auf einer Schnur aufgereihte Perlenkette darzustellen. Ein Chaos im positiven Sinne. Sehr vieles, in den Gedankengängen, den Blicken nach (weiblichen) Vorbildern und der unterschiedlichen öffentlichen Rezeption darauf, in den Emotionen, den Erfolgen, Niederlagen bis mittleren Katastrophen spielen sich in der Realität nicht schön praktisch brav zeitlich hintereinander ab. Die Not des kommerziellen Überlebens, meist als einengender Zwang erlebt, kann nach Hunter genauso gut als Hilfestellung gesehen werden, die einen kreativen Freigeist dazu anhält, Ordnung in dieses Chaos zu bringen. Wie bereits ihr letztes kleines im Fabriktheater gezeigtes Stück The Fault Lines zeigt auch das Solo «Hunter» eine sehr viel deutlichere Verortung in der Performance, die aus der Bildenden Kunst kommt – und quasi systemimmanent die Kritik am herrschenden Kunstzirkus mitmeint. Nie unterwirft Meg Stuart in dieser Arbeit ihren Plan einer künstlerischen Bearbeitung einer allfälligen Publikumserwartung oder gar Gefallssucht. Die teilweise starke Symbolhaftigkeit beispielsweise der Materialien, die in ihrer haptischen Beschaffenheit allein schon Geschichten und Emotionen darstellen und übertragen, vereinfachen das grundsätzlich gut funktionierende Verständnis für diesen performativen Slalomkurs durch ein gelebtes Leben.

Jan 2014
Meg Stuart's sensational hall of mirrors

De Standaard
Charlotte De Somviele

Twenty years after setting up her company Damaged Goods, Meg Stuart is staging her first, evening-length solo. Oddly enough, solos offer an inherent promise of truthfulness. As an artist, there is nothing you can behind – other than yourself. And it so happens that this is precisely what Stuart does, without equal, in Hunter. She conceals and then exposes herself in a capricious stream of images, movements, video and sound. The result is a kaleidoscope of mirror images whose contours blur before your very eyes. Stuart plays this game of ‘seeing and being seen’ against a striking backdrop created by Barbara Ehnes. Copper pipes emerge from a Perspex tube several metres high and extend deep into the hall. Stuart’s hunting den is like a childhood tepee, but a life-size version and without the canvas tent. This serves to immediately highlight the ambition behind Hunter, which is to turn the personal inside out. The performance begins with the choreographer sitting at a table, working on a kind of collage. Old family snaps and a photo of Yoko Ono are covered in glitter, while cuttings fastened with pins are re-arranged and set alight. Here, you see in microcosm what Hunter is about to do for the next two hours on a larger scale: namely trace the biographical and artistic tracks that have made Stuart who she is today. Mind you, the image with which you are presented is anything but objective. We see a puzzling collage of snapshots that have been eroded by memory, coloured in by the imagination, and which have imprinted themselves on Stuart’s muscles and skin. The pins in the photographs work like acupuncture, and this becomes apparent when she hesitantly begins to dance. Her arms and legs are like antennae that pick up the strangest frequencies. Vincent Malstaf’s ingenious soundtrack also sounds like a radio transmitter, one that is constantly skipping from station to station. Quotes from Stuart’s heroes Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are intermingled with excerpts from interviews and pop songs from her childhood days. Super-8 films of her late brother Robert (whose death we learn about later) and American beaches loom up like grainy after-images, while Chris Kondek’s surreal videos throw this dream landscape wide open. And as if he is trying to paint Stuart’s chakra, Jan Maertens bathes the scene in the most beautiful rainbow of colours. This is no less than a synthesis of the arts, a thrilling phantasmagoria. Hunter shows us a thousand faces and demands the same number of eyes to take it all in. She moves from being aggressive to being vulnerable; from the minimalistic to the grotesque; from being someone who mumbles and distrusts words to a person who ‘blogs’ live about art and urbanism. The elusive Stuart transforms herself from one shadow into another, with her body as the only tangible reality. A voice repeatedly intones ‘all you see is real, very real’. And yes, you will rarely come closer to the truth about a person (or perhaps the whole of mankind) than you do here: that she does not exist, however doggedly we might pursue her.

(Translation Helen Simpson)

Jan 2014
Beautiful cutting up and reassembling the past: ‘Hunter’ by Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods

Utopia Parkway

Some performances are gone the next day. Forgotten. Some stay with you a little longer. And some keep on popping up in your mind. Such as Hunter, the first evening-length solo by Meg Stuart. I watched the American choreographer perform it a couple of months ago in Essen, and scenes and images from it have been coming back to me regularly, since. Hunter, a piece about memories. The Venice Biennale wanted it on its programme last June, and the well-respected German magazine tanz awarded Meg Stuart the title choreographer of the year for it. The piece will have its Belgian premiere this week at Kaaitheater, Brussels.

A first of a special kind. After a career spanning twenty years, Hunter is actually Meg Stuart’s first evening-length solo. It premiered in Berlin (March 2014). It is a piece centered around memories, but it is certainly not solely about the past, as it is strangely contemporary too.
It bears a resemblance to Sketches/Notebook, the previous piece by the American choreographer and her Belgian-based company Damaged Goods: Hunter also consists of a series of scenes in which Stuart mixes movement with elements from visual arts (colors, light, video, the texture of things) and theatre. It is set to a dizzying soundscape (by Vincent Malstaf): an impressive collage of sounds, music and spoken word, which makes you wonder afterwards: did I really hear Willem Vermandere, Question Mark & The Mysterians ánd Jonas Mekas?

Look at what my body is doing. I don’t know any other performer able to so skilfully detach her persona from the movements her body is making. As if she herself is amazed by what those arms are coming up with, oh and look how they move in a completely unexpected way. Hunter comprises once again one of those sequences Meg Stuart is extremely good at. It looks as if her body is an antenna, and it keeps on receiving different signals, from one surprise to the next. In this case: switching from one memory to the next. From one remembered movement to another one. The body as a brain: remembering. Just as that soundscape seems to be continuously switching channels too, jumping from music to spoken word.

Its one of the scenes that have been coming back to me. The beginning, I clearly remember as well, Meg Stuart sitting at a little desk, cutting up family pictures and then rearranging them, in what looks like an artist’s lab. Or that moment she all of a sudden starts talking, almost in a stand up-comedy sort of way. Explaining why she tried to stay away from talking on stage, and then telling an amusing story that jumps from Trisha Brown to Casper The Friendly Ghost and kundalini yoga. I remember the color orange. Carpets. A set design mixing a spiderweb with a circus tent. And then that fantastic scene in which a pair of speakers descend from above and Meg Stuart starts singing with Yoko Ono.
I also clearly remember sitting there, in the bar, afterwards, perplexed by this information overload, wondering what to make of it. There’s no denying that once again Hunter proves how gifted Meg Stuart is as a contemporary choreographer, mixing all those different elements, distorting them, exactly knowing what to do with them, sensing when it’s time to move on to the next scene. All of it is real, I was told afterwards. The photos, the video footage, the voices (her brother): it all really is from her past. And so Hunter combines life (family) and work (influences). But it is not about the puzzle, about trying to put all the pieces together as a viewer, about figuring out what the link is between exhibit A and memory B, about lessons learned.

For years I’ve written a diary, because I wanted to hold on to the past. Until I realized that it was no use. There is no way you can capture everything, and remember everything. Hunter reminded me of that feeling. It presents someone trying to tell you about everything she is made up of, but knowing that ultimately it’s no use, trying to talk about everything. But you’ve lived a life, you’ve collected thoughts, sounds and images along the way. Hunter is the Meg Stuart way of dealing with that, and she does so, not only in a strangely beautiful, but also in a very contemporary way, in this world in which everybody is coping with an information overload. It’s as a (very distorted) Pinterest page coming alive.

15 May 2014
Un chef d’oeuvre peut en cacher un autre
[ French ]
DF Danse
Margot Cascarre

Que sont les hommes face à des monuments (musicaux)? Voici la question à laquelle les cinq interprètes de Built to Last tentent de répondre en étant confrontés aux chefs-d’œuvre de Beethoven et d’une dizaine d’autres compositeurs. Avec sa machine à remonter le temps, Meg Stuart propose une réflexion sur le rapport de l’homme à l’art, mais aussi à la création.

Beethoven, Xenakis, Bruckner, Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Brumel, Messiaen… Des noms qui ne vous sont sûrement pas inconnus. Ceux de compositeurs qui ont marqué et influencé l’histoire et le monde de la musique. Des hommes qui ont composé des chefs-d’œuvre devenus éternels. Voici ce à quoi sont confrontés les cinq interprètes de Built to Last . « Ma première idée était d’utiliser la Symphonie No 3 de Beethoven en observant comment danseurs et acteurs allaient apprivoiser cette musique et comment ils allaient réussir à composer avec ses grandes promesses de liberté, sa monumentalité, son histoire et son poids dans la culture occidentale. » Une première pour Meg Stuart, la musique de ses pièces étant d’ordinaire créées en même temps que la chorégraphie. Alain Franco, dramaturge musical de la pièce, lui a donc proposé une « machine à remonter le temps avec 12 compositeurs classiques et contemporains et une relation organique entre les partitions, comme le ferait un DJ ».

À travers ces chefs-d’œuvre musicaux, la chorégraphe américaine voyage dans le temps. « Toutes ces œuvres grandioses nous dépassent, nous subjuguent. » À chaque nouvelle musique, un nouveau tableau, une nouvelle danse, une nouvelle histoire. Un nouveau décor aussi. Ainsi se succèdent un immense mobile aux allures de système solaire, un dinosaure en pièces détachées, une vitrine de musée présentant des peuplades primitivo futuristes… « Différents styles se succèdent, la danse se transforme sans cesse, car nous avons essayé de donner des formes à la société et au monde. Nous sommes des humains voyageant dans le temps pour observer les humains et nous cherchons la meilleure attitude physique pour entrer en contact avec tels et tels mondes. »

En plus de voyager à travers l’Histoire, les cinq interprètes font référence à celle de la danse. « On évoque l’esprit d’Isadora Duncan, un peu de Martha Graham et on reprend un solo d’Yvonne Rainer. Il y a aussi une allusion au Tanztheater allemand. » Mais plus que raconter simplement l’histoire de la danse, Meg Stuart souhaite surtout montrer comment l’utilisation du corps a changé à travers le temps, comment la danse est devenue plus relâchée, plus brute… Mais impossible pour elle de définir la danse aujourd’hui. « It’s a big question ! »

D’autres questions trouvent difficilement leur réponse. Qu’est-ce que l’héroïsme aujourd’hui? Comment croire à l’immuable alors que tant de choses sont conçues pour briser rapidement et être remplacées ? « Les personnages de la pièce n’arrivent pas toujours à répondre à cette musique qui invite à une démarche héroïque épuisante. Ils essayent de devenir quelque chose de très spécial, ils échouent, réessayent… » explique Meg Stuart. « Ça montre combien nous sommes fragiles. » Built to Last, traduit littéralement signifie « Construit pour durer ». L’idée de création est au centre de cette pièce. Créer, détruire, reconstruire, déconstruire, digérer l’existant et le recomposer sous une forme nouvelle. « Le fait est que l’humain a toujours besoin de se réinventer pour évoluer, aller de l’avant. » Voyager dans le temps pour mieux comprendre comment ces monuments, ces traces du passé, s’intègrent dans le présent. Peut-être inspirent-ils d’autres œuvres, futurs chefs-d’œuvre ou monuments en devenir. Un questionnement très solennel auquel Meg Stuart et ses cinq interprètes tentent de répondre, non sans y ajouter une bonne pointe d’humour.

15 May 2014
Danse libre sur musique grandiose
[ French ]
Philippe Couture

Ne cessant pas d’explorer les mécanismes du vivre-ensemble, la chorégraphe américaine Meg Stuart, installée à Bruxelles, sonde la musique classique et l’histoire de la danse dans Built to Last.

La dernière fois qu’elle est venue à Montréal, en 2010, la chorégraphe acclamée Meg Stuart proposait Do Animals Cry, un spectacle grinçant et virevoltant sur la famille. Depuis, elle a pris de nouveaux chemins, notamment dans Violet, une pièce plus abstraite orchestrant des corps en transe. Explorant aujourd’hui le rapport entre le corps et la musique canonique de Beethoven, Xenakis, Dvorák ou Rachmaninov, elle revient à une danse collective qui cherche un espace de communion des âmes, mais elle en profite pour s’interroger sur l’histoire et le devenir de l’humanité.

«Je voulais, dit-elle, prendre cette musique monumentale et explorer la manière dont elle résonne dans le corps quotidien. L’idée étant de traduire en gestes la sensation que procure cette musique grandiose, nous faisant réaliser notre petitesse. J’ai travaillé avec le pianiste Alain Franco, qui a permis d’inscrire ce travail dans une perspective historique: le spectacle propose de prendre la musique comme embrayeur d’un voyage dans l’histoire de l’humanité.»

À partir de Beethoven, alors que les interprètes pénètrent dans une machine à voyager dans le temps, sont explorés différentes époques et différents états. Chaque musique est traduite dans un langage chorégraphique différent, pour un spectacle plutôt éclectique. «On y voit aussi, précise Meg Stuart, comment cette musique a parfois été utilisée à de mauvais desseins. Beethoven composait sa musique dans un esprit de liberté, mais il a ensuite été enseigné de manière élitiste: on en a fait quelque chose d’inaccessible alors que c’était destiné à être tout le contraire. On essaie donc de traiter Beethoven comme une musique qui nous appartient, à partir de laquelle on peut bouger librement.»

C’est surtout une musique qui rassemble les hommes autour d’un certain idéal. La chorégraphie est ainsi divisée entre unisson et individualité, à l’image des sociétés humaines qui ont graduellement abandonné les utopies collectivistes pour se replier sur les droits individuels. «Les idéologies ont échoué, s’attriste la chorégraphe, mais je pense qu’une certaine force nous unit, et cette musique puissante qui a traversé les époques en témoigne. Bien sûr, il y a des moments dans le spectacle où on observe cela avec ironie. Notre époque est désenchantée, je le suis aussi, mais j’essaie de garder espoir.»

Tout en explorant le passé, la chorégraphie porte aussi en elle des questions sur le futur. En fréquentant l’histoire, les interprètes sont en quelque sorte à la recherche d’un monde neuf, malgré le fait que la planète soit menacée d’extinction par la faute des hommes. «L’avenir est incertain, et on a travaillé avec des objets rétro-futuristes pour évoquer l’idée d’un futur possible mais déjà vieilli. En ces objets se conjuguent des antagonismes: on est à la fois dans le romantisme et dans le pessimisme.»

L’histoire de la danse parcourt aussi ce spectacle, en puisant dans le langage chorégraphique de plusieurs artistes, dans un jeu de références et d’hommage libre. Une démarche inattendue de la part de Meg Stuart, qui s’en dit elle-même fort étonnée.

28 Mar 2014
Le collage comme principe chorégraphique
[ French ]
die Tageszeitung
Katrin Bettina Müller

DANSE. Réunir les parties isolées en un tout : dans sa pièce solo « Hunter » présentée au HAU 2, Meg Stuart interroge le corps pensé comme un réceptacle de souvenirs.

C’est un petit événement. La chorégraphe Meg Stuart, vingt ans après la création de sa compagnie Damaged Goods, occupe seule et le temps d’une soirée toute entière la scène du théâtre. Lors de la Première de « Hunter » au HAU 2, ensuite programmé à Essen, Venise, Gênes, Zurich et Bruxelles, beaucoup de connaisseurs ont eu l’occasion de se revoir. Ainsi, ce public, qui côtoie l’œuvre de Meg Stuart depuis la fin des années 1990, se rappelle de ses pièces « appetite », « Visitors only » et « Alibi ». Ces collègues, journalistes-critiques et spectateurs avisés suivent avec attention, et souvent avec une grande admiration, le travail de Meg Stuart.

La représentation en quelques mots : elle dansa devant une assemblée de Fans-de-Meg-Stuart et récompensa leur fidélité avec une pièce dont toutes les qualités, de l’écriture à l’atmosphère si particulière qui s’en dégage, viennent encore renforcer la dimension personnelle caractéristique de l’œuvre de la chorégraphe. Découper, mettre en pièces, repeindre, réécrire, créer de nouveaux angles, recomposer, étirer, précipiter : voici en quelques mots ce que l’on ressent face à cet art de la danse auquel viennent s’ajouter des mouvements du quotidien, ici pour la première fois montrés en images. Une caméra projette sur un écran ce que Meg Stuart, aperçoit, assise dos au public, depuis cette table où sont posés des ciseaux et des stylos, de la colle ainsi que des photographies et d’autres objets liés au souvenir. Et tout ce que le spectateur est en mesure de reconnaître se transforme sans cesse sous ses yeux. Ce principe du collage, auquel Meg Stuart s’exerce avec un don remarquable, est mis en exergue sur chaque surface, même infime, du corps. Les mains et les bras deviennent des éléments vivants autonomes. Lorsque la danse démarre sur un air de musique fragmenté et changeant, chaque mouvement du corps suit ce rythme entrainant. Chaque déplacement devient mécanique, léger, fragile ou agressif. Les sensations contradictoires exposées ici évoquent de nombreuses situations. Et bien que l’on ne pourrait décrire avec des mots les scènes auxquelles on assiste, la chorégraphie n’est pas abstraite, bien au contraire. Les mouvements nous affectent toujours plus, incarnant des impressions émotives ou un état physique.

Dans le drame qui se met peu à peu en place à travers le corps fragile de la chorégraphe, un combat s’installe contre des souvenirs qui ne veulent pas se montrer comme tels. Des films de famille tournés en Super-8 et des images d’enfants sont projetés sur différents écrans. On entend parfois les voix d’un vieil homme ou d’une vieille femme à la recherche des mots exacts. À la fin, Meg Stuart lance un projecteur crépitant, sa vitesse est déréglée, l’image tressaute, un vide en mouvement qui migre progressivement vers le sommet de la scène. C’est par l’usage de tels éléments visuels et acoustiques que la danse devient lisible. Les allusions biographiques et personnelles font leur entrée sur scène à travers les images défilant à toute allure et où l’on voit des maisons en feu ou une bouche en sang. Cette proximité avec la catastrophe et la panique, qui provoque un fort sentiment d’insécurité, est présente dans de nombreuses pièces de Meg Stuart. Mais cette fois-ci, la timidité et la dureté tout comme la vulnérabilité et la violence deviennent les multiples facettes d’une seule personne, les différents aspects de l’histoire jouée.

La lumière (Jan Maertens), le son (Vincent Malstaf), les décors (Barbara Ehnes) et les vidéos (Chris Kondek) produisent un espace non pas isolé mais perçu comme partie intégrante du monde et souvent rendu étroit par des situations privées ou des événements généraux. De temps à autre, des objets, comme cet éclairage coloré et chatoyant projeté sur une toile à la fois miroir et transparente, viennent s’ajouter aux déplacements de la danseuse créant ainsi de véritables installations animées. Il en ressort un corps vu et en même temps invisible, un corps perçu comme un espace sur lequel l’éclairage tout entier converge. Et la pièce, lugubre d’une certaine manière, s’aventurant même parfois dans l’au-delà, touche déjà trop vite à sa fin.

Traduction Eléonore Muhidine

28 Mar 2014
La déchirure dans mon corps
[ French ]
Sandra Luzina

Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) : La danseuse et chorégraphe Meg Stuart présente son premier spectacle-solo « Hunter ».

« Les gens disent de moi que je suis timide. » C’est sur ces mots que Meg Stuart entame son monologue, regardant le public d’un air timide. Cette pièce-solo est la première d’un tel genre pour la chorégraphe américaine âgée de quarante-neuf ans et vivant à Berlin depuis plusieurs années. « Hunter » constitue une quête confiante de soi-même et c’est sans aucun doute le projet le plus personnel de la danseuse à ce jour. La pièce atteste, encore une fois, de l’éloquence du corps exprimée dans ses déformations continuelles et ses mouvements incongrus.

La grande surprise est que Meg Stuart récite cette fois-ci un long texte devant le public. Elle chantera même à la fin. « Je ne fais pas spécialement confiance aux mots » explique-t-elle à propos de sa prétendue timidité. Puis, la voilà qui nous parle de ses parents, tous deux metteurs en scène et anciens directeurs d’un théâtre communal. « J’ai vu tellement de mauvais acteurs, avoue-t-elle, que je me suis jurée de ne jamais dire un seul mot sur scène. »

La soirée tourne autour des souvenirs. La langue de l’artiste se délie. Meg Stuart interroge l’inscription de ses expériences personnelles dans son propre corps, un thème interrompu dans son travail.
Dans « Hunter », elle choisit à nouveau le support multimédia s’entoure de différents matériaux. On la voit au début, totalement perdue, assise à une table, découpant des photographies noir et blanc tirées de ses albums privés puis assemblant les coupures entre elles. Sur le cliché d’une mère et de son enfant, les visages sont remplacés par des têtes animales. D’autres images sont repeintes au vernis à ongles ou recouvertes de papier glacé. Sur ce décor vient s’ajouter un collage musical mêlant morceaux de musique, bruits et voix. Deux femmes discutent des retombées d’une rupture, une autre femme raconte comment une féministe tente en vain de faire la promotion d’une Playboy-Bunny. Et la voix cassée d’un homme enseigne la nécessité du changement. Le privé et le philosophique, tout comme le drôle et le profond, vont de pair.

La décoratrice Barbar Ehnes a imaginé pour Meg Stuart une construction aérienne en plexiglas et tubes métalliques couvrant la scène telle un parapluie. Plusieurs écrans y sont suspendus. Lorsque la chorégraphe met enfin le pied sur scène, l’espace est déjà bien chargé. Elle s’allonge ensuite sur le sol et sursaute, comme électrisée. Son corps à l’air d’être sous le coup d’une pression énorme. Il s’agite et tressaille, tourne et se cabre. L’artiste est complètement livrée aux mouvements incontrôlables de son propre corps. Dans « Hunter », ce corps donne l’impression de la briser de l’intérieur. La syntaxe créée à partir de tous ces mouvements si variés est unique. Quelle ardeur dans la scène où elle ne fait jouer que ses bras ! Des bras qui développent une troublante activité à part, se nouant et s’emmêlant, ruant et ne se laissant contrôler qu’avec force. Imaginer de telles fantasmagories du corps, des visions avec une forte part de grotesque, représente le plus grand don de Meg Stuart.

Sur les films saccadés, on voit le père ou la petite fille montrant sa première danse. Les vidéos de Chris Kondex sont presque surréelles. Elles montrent la chorégraphe en transe ou tâtant son corps comme un objet étranger. Durant cette soirée, Meg Stuart traverse les états émotionnels les plus variés. Une fois, elle s’enfonce dans une tente en tissu-patchwork multicolore, comme s’il lui était impossible de quitter entièrement l’enfance. Plus tard, elle joue le torse nu et coiffée d’une longue perruque blonde dans laquelle elle se love comme dans un cocon.

Meg Stuart fait partie des chorégraphes les plus remarquables de la création contemporaine. Depuis que le Hebbel am Ufer l’a choisi comme collaboratrice, sa carrière a fait un nouveau bond en avant. Ses spectacles régulièrement programmés sont presque toujours joués à guichets fermés. Avec « Hunter », elle nous montre qu’elle est une chasseuse, et non une collectionneuse. Elle embroche l’objet et s’enfonce avec dans les méandres du souvenir. Cette soirée ressemble plus à une séance, bien qu’à la fin l’obsession douloureuse s’estompe. La danseuse accepte son histoire et s’en libère. Puis enfin, elle envoie dans un flot de paroles amusant tous les chamanes, coaches personnels et autres thérapeutes mystiques au fin fond du désert.

Traduction Eléonore Muhidine

Apr 2013
Dance Moves

Astrid Kaminski

A small, cumbersome figure wrapped in a heavy robe of layered quilts, her mouth stuck in a grimace, each foot shackled to a sack of bricks as if about to be drowned. A picture that hurts, even if there is no story to accompany it – no tragedy, not even a scream. Arranged into this static-looking image, the dancer and choreographer Meg Stuart drags herself across the floor in her latest work Sketches/Notebook (2013). At the other end of the room, costume designer Claudia Hill, who dressed Stuart beforehand, strips her back down to her thin, naked skin.

Designers and live musicians are often seen on stage as performers in Stuart’s productions. The entire first part of Sketches belongs to Hill. Again and again, she readies the dancers for a brief photo shoot before tidily hanging all the props back on the clothes racks. These are acts without consequences, anti-processes like eating fast food, writing job applications, fruitless shopping trips. In BLESSED (premiered in 2007 at Berlin’s Volksbühne), it was Jean-Paul Lespagnard who dressed the dancer Francisco Camacho (soaked, like the cardboard palm tree and swan props, by the artificial cloudburst on stage) in a beach towel and a death mask. The scene may be paradise or a typhoid-infested swamp, but at least the issue of style has been taken care of.

Asked whether her tendency to turn the stage into a dressing room points to a hidden Marie Antoinette complex, Stuart answers: ‘So not!’ Instead, she explains her need for designers by saying that ‘individualities are incomplete’. The artist herself is without makeup, in a brown vintage pullover, hex bleached blonde hair tousled. The last two years have been restless but highly productive, with shows as different as the excessive VIOLET (premiered at PACT Zollverein, Essen in 2011), the eternal lottery of Built to Last (premiered at the Kammerspiele in Munich in 2012) and now the choreographic journal, Sketches/Notebook (premiered at Berlin’s Hebbel-am-Ufer in 2013). Damaged Goods, the company Stuart founded in 1994, is based in Brussels but her apartment is in Berlin. For the past two years, she had a project-based residency at the Kammerspiele in Munich and a fresh alliance is now beginning with Annemie Vanackere, the new manager and artistic director of Berlin’s hip Hebbel-am-Ufer (HAU). After her partnerships with Zurich’s Schauspielhaus and Berlin’s Volksbühne, this is a further, albeit loose association with a specific theatre.

Few of her European colleagues can match this record. Apart from Stuart, it is rare for contemporary choreographers to be offered residences at theaters where dance is not part of the usual programme. One high-profile exception was the experiment by Thomas Ostermeier and Sasha Waltz at Berlin’s Schaubühne, from 1999–2004, which came to an end for financial reasons. To hear Stuart tell the story, it sounds like her own career came about more by chance than design. Maybe that is part of her secret.

Sketches is now being staged as a striking start to her time at HAU. As so often in Stuart’s works, the light in the space seems to be filtered through celluloid. The quilted lady mentioned before also made a previous appearance, featuring under the working title Blanket Lady in the performance Moments (2012) at ZKM in Karlsruhe. This lady with the aura of a sad down-and-out queen, like something straight out of a Samuel Beckett play, gives an idea of the basic mood of many pieces by Stuart: the party is allays already over, even when, as in Visitors Only (2003), it is still in full swing. There are faint glows at some points, but otherwise plenty of aimlessness and meaninglessness, mixed with a sense of somnambulistic resignation. In an interview with artist Catherine Sullivan in 2008, Stuart commented: ‘there is nothing I like more than to see someone on stage attempting an impossible task.’ Adding: ‘I only realized two years ago that my dancers had been performing a perverse form of slapstick all these years.’

Although there are pieces like Maybe Forever (2007) and BLESSED that hint at psychological figures or deal with specific relationship issues, even today the bodies of Stuart’s performers are more shells and sensory apparatuses than characters. They are somatic bodies that shiver, articulate ticks, pull faces, get in a whirl, become entangled. Not tied to any particular soul, they are traumatic dream dancers, free of pathos, imprisoned in a vegetative fabric of interconnected movements. The ‘empty body’ is an important artistic tool for Stuart, as are her studies of trancelike states, providing a base from which the body can become a container and a laboratory of mixed emotions. This may also be what gives her works their often contemplative, even meditative quality, in spite of the aggressive music and abrupt scene changes. But this does not mean relaxation in the conventional sense. More of a David Lynch-like Mulholland Drive feeling, a perpetual nervousness that lasts and lasts until it has established a level of its own, becoming absolute.

Stuart’s oeuvre as a whole is also a kind of container, open to influences from almost every field of the arts. During her time in New York in the 1980s and early ’90s, she lived in SoHo, visiting several galleries a day. With hindsight, she says her sense of choreographic space was very much shaped by her studies of pictorial composition. This led to many collaborations with artists including Gary Hixl, Ann Hamilton and Pierre Coulibeuf. In her book on Stuart, Bild in Bewegung und Choreographie (Image in Motion and Chorography, 2008), art theorist Annamira Jochim, who has spent years analyzing the artist’s works, inverts this relationship, looking for aspects of an expanded definition of the performativity of pictures. Material for this approach is provided above all by the different viewing angles in spatially fragmented choreographies like Highway 101 (2000) and Visitors Only. This line of argument is strengthened by the Sketches aesthetic with its partial audience mobility (during the performance, a whole row of seats is periodically placed on one of the artist’s signature ramps).

Stuart’s formats remain hard to pin down, however. The ‘pure’ dance of VIOLET (2011) was followed by Built to Last, absurd theoretical ballet danced by actors under raucous loudspeakers spewing distorted classical music, from Beethoven to Stockhausen. This was unusual for a choreographer who otherwise makes very deliberate use of live music. The almost moral perspective on humans, appearing animal-like under the monumentality of their cultural products, was another surprise. Choreographed and stage managed through and through, the piece is also likely to have alienated some fans, while coming as a relief to others. The audience must put up with this – after all, Stuart is not known for letting conceptual statements limit her scope for action. Surrendering to the process is the true constant across all the variation in her works: whether she is hosting workshops with a witch from New York in Stolzenhagen, the summer home of Berlin’s dance scene, or setting her performers on collision course with planets in a staged firmament. Perhaps her first experience in the theatre at age six was a formative one in this respect: coming from a theatrical family – her mother and father were directors, her grandfather a minstrel – she helped out as a substitute diminished witch’ in The Wizard of Oz. The reason? ‘Because the other girl got afraid.’

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Astrid Kaminski is based in Berlin. She writes on literature, dance and performance for a number of newspapers and magazines.

12 Jan 2013
Es steht ein Saurier auf der Bühne
[ German ]
Berliner Zeitung
Michaela Schlagenwerth

Vermutlich schaut die US-amerikanische Choreografin Meg Stuart gern Horrorfilme. Streifen wie „The walking Dead“, die so gruselig sind, dass man selbst davor kapituliert hat. Nicht, dass es· in Stuarts Stück „Built to last“, einer Koproduktion mit den Münchener Kammerspielen, das jetzt im Hau 2 zu sehen ist, um Horror ginge. Ganz und gar nicht. Es geht um Beethoven und Rachmaninoff, um Bruckner, Lachenmann und Meredith Monk. Um 15 Werke, die Musikgeschichte geschrieben, die die Musik technisch wie inhaltlich verändert haben, und die Ideale und Utopien der Menschheit thematisieren. Es ist eine absurde Mischung, und sich mit dieser Musik tanztheatralisch auseinandersetzen zu wollen ist ein Vorhaben, von dem man mit Sicherheit zu wissen meint: Das kann nicht gutgehen. Aber dann geschieht etwas Erstaunliches. Stuarts fünf Performer, alle auch selbst Choreografen und Regisseure, kommen so erstaunlich leichtfüssig daher, dass man nur an echte Genre-Versiertheit glauben mag. Damit wir gleich von Anfang an wissen, womit wir es zu tun haben, steht am Bühnenrand ein Saurierskelett aus Sperrholz. Als ebensolche Gliederpuppen zeigen sich Anja Müller, Dragana Bolut, Maria F. Scardini, Davis Freeman und Kristof van Boven. Sie stehen in einer Reihe an der Rampe und verschieben nicht mehr als ihre nach außen gereckten Ellenbogen. Aber so subtil, dass sich ein fantastisches Ballett ergibt. Später werden die Kugeln an der Bühnendecke zu kreisen beginnen und sich zur Musik von Meredith Monk neue Universen öffnen. Das Saurierskelett wird zerlegt, absurde Kostüme werden angelegt. Zu Rachmaninoff werden alle zuckend gegen den Bombast ankämpfen, sich darüber lustig machen, sich doch wieder ergeben. Pausieren, resignieren und, mit den Schultern zuckend, eine neue Schleife drehen.

Mit göttlicher Merkurkappe ausgerüstet reist Anja Müller in den Bühnenhimmel, um ein wenig Ball mit den Planeten zu spielen, und von Ferne wird dabei Charlie Chaplin grüßen. Das Podest, auf dem sie steht, wird dabei von ihren Mitspielern tapfer hin- und hergeschoben, sie selbst kann mit den unbeirrbar auf ihren Bahnen kreisenden Kugeln nur so tun, als hielte und würfe sie diese.· Eigentlich muss sie aufpassen, dass sie nicht imWeg steht, und ihr nicht ihr bizarrer Hut vom Kopf gestoßen wird. Sie ist eben nur ein kleiner, sterblicher, verkleideter Mensch. Was will man da gegen Werke ausrichten, die für die Ewigkeit gemacht sind – „built to last“.

„Built to last“ ist witzig, komisch, anrührend, und gerade, weil die Performer so unspektakulär daherkommen, kann all das Große und Spektakuläre wunderbar durch sie hindurchfließen. Das Stück ist Stuarts erste Koproduktion mit den Münchener Kammerspielen. Es scheint sich um eine für beide Seiten sehr fruchtbare Partnerschaft zu handeln. Eine, die in Berlin Ihre Fortsetzung findet. Denn auch in Annemie van Ackeres Hau hat Stuart, nachdem Ihre Partnerschaft mit der Volksbühne sang- und klanglos zu·Ende ging, einen neuen Partner gefunden. Sie geht also Berlin erfreulicherweise nicht verloren.

25 Jul 2013
Symphonie der Emotionen
[ German ]
Wiener Zeitung
Helene Binder

Es knistert und knarzt. Dazu Bilder von Brücken und Beton, Steinen und Städten. Die fünf Tänzer lassen sich auf die Geräusche ein, halten kurz inne, erstarren zu menschlichen Monumenten. Die Arme sind steif nach oben gestreckt, als ob sie in die Zukunft zeigen würden. Gleichzeitig steht ein riesiger hölzerner Dinosaurier auf der Bühne, der die Vergangenheit und das Vergängliche symbolisiert. Über allem lässt Bühnenbildnerin Doris Dziersk die Planeten eines Sonnensystems schweben. Der Ursprung, das große ganze sozusagen.
„Built to Last“ (gebaut für die Ewigkeit) ist Meg Stuarts erste Koproduktion mit den Münchner Kammerspielen und bietet viel Raum für Interpretationen und Assoziationen. Das Stück ist im Prinzip eine Dauerbeschallung durch klassische und zeitgenössische Musik gespickt mit einzelnen Episoden und Geschichten. Absurd, ironisch, düster, komisch, farbenfroh und emotional packend zugleich. Bedeutungsschwangere Kompositionen der Musikgeschichte kommen zum Einsatz, die große Themen wie Ideale oder das Menschsein an sich behandeln. Die Choreografin hat um diese massiven Melodien von Beethoven und Rachmaninow, Bruckner oder Lachenmann ein dialogisches Spiel entwickelt.

Spiel mit Raum und Zeit

Die Tänzer (Dragana Bulut, Davis Freeman, Anja Müller, Maria F. Scaroni, Kristof Van Boven) gehen voll und ganz in der Musik auf, kehren Emotionen hervor, interpretieren diese auf ihre eigene Art und Weise. Etwa indem sie den Dinosaurier demontieren und wirr wieder zusammensetzen oder sich Masken aus Draht aufsetzen und die Bewegungen von Vögeln und Insekten imitieren. Immerhin gehören Insekten zu den ältesten und anpassungsfähigsten Bewohnern dieser Erde. Sind sie vielleicht die wahren Monumente, die die Ewigkeit überdauern werden?
Die Musik fungiert in Meg Stuarts „Built to Last“ lediglich als grober Raster, der in verschiedene Richtungen führen kann. Eines bleibt dabei aber gewiss: Nichts bleibt ewig bestehen. Der Mensch ist vergänglich und mit ihm alles, was er geschaffen hat. In kleinen Episoden werden Andeutungen gemacht, Raum für Interpretation geschaffen. Zum Beispiel wenn die Tänzer im Kreis gehen und die Evolution des Menschen nachspielen oder sich wie haarige Urzeitmenschen kleiden, Dreschflegel und Flechtkorb in die Hand nehmen, um sich wie ein Ausstellungsstück aus längst vergangenen Tagen zu präsentieren.
In einer anderen Episode der Performance bewegen sich die Tänzer wie in Schwerelosigkeit, ganz so, als ob sich in einem Raumschiff der Zukunft befänden. Dieses Spiel mit Raum und Zeit, verschiedenen Requisiten und Tanzstilen, schafft eine spannende Atmosphäre voller Emotionen und Möglichkeiten.

Ein besonderes Moment entsteht, als Anja Müller auf einem Podest versucht, den Planeten des Sonnensystems zu trotzen und adeltet, dass der Mensch das immerwährende Monument ist, das die Laufbahnen der Planeten lenken kann. Ihre Bewegungen sind episch-schön, kraftvoll und zart zugleich. Besser könnte man den Wunsch des Menschen nach Ewigkeit nicht darstellen.

4 Sterne

30 May 2013
Jury report 'het TheaterFestival'

het TheaterFestival

Why do we erect monuments? This is the tantalising question raised by Meg Stuart’s Built to Last. In both dance and visual language, as much as in the choice of music, Stuart and her performers try to breath new life into cultural monuments, and to give us something akin to love and comfort. Ultimately, the dancers fail in their intention, although they do their very best. Built to Last has it all: an arsenal of impressive images, virtuoso players and exciting waves of music that keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat. Built to Last is like a journey that provides us with the space to think about who and what we are. Liberating.

Feb 2013
Sketchbook in motion

tip Berlin
Dorion Weickmann

Choreographer Meg Stuart was artist-in-residence at Hebbel am Ufer and performed two of her pieces there in January.

Every performing artist’s dream is to be given an empty theatre for a whole month, to gather a handful of colleagues and to rehearse with no particular goal. This dream came true for American choreographer Meg Stuart when HAU intendant Annemie Vanackere offered her exclusive use of the HAU 3. In the small black box of an attic room, the choreographer created Sketches/Notebook, a sort of chamber play. The XXL predecessor to Sketches/Notebook – Stuart’s monumental Built to Last, created in 2012 at the Münchner Kammerspiele – was performed in HAU’s main building shortly before the première of this smaller ‘mini’ production.

The experience of balancing a large project at a ‘civic theatre’ and an experimental project in HAU 3 was evidently to the congenial American’s taste. For years, she has been commuting between Brussels (the headquarters of her company, Damaged Goods) and Berlin, not to mention a whole host of other places while on tour.

In the meantime, Meg Stuart’s art, which is hard to pin down as merely art, has even won official recognition. She was recently awarded the Konrad-Wolf Prize by Berlin’s Akademie der Künste. Stuart describes this as a milestone in her career, for her 10-year old son at least. ‘Since then, he’s been coming to the studio, and he wants to become a dancer. It certainly gave him new confidence in his mother’s art!’

In her awards ceremony acceptance speech, Stuart spoke frankly. She summed herself up as a choreographer ‘who sometimes creates difficult pieces’. Which was very magnanimous and, at the same time, a way of forgiving all those who have walked out of her productions over the last twenty years. Indeed, since her European début Disfigure Study, which made a lasting impression at the Belgian Klapstuk Festival, dozens of spectators have walked out of her performances. On the other hand, there is also a die-hard community of fans and enthusiasts, who even heap praise on weaker works such as the fault lines (2010). Anyone who has been following Meg Stuart’s work over the years will have seen duds like this from time to time, just as they will have experienced wonderful moments like the recent Violet – a frontal attack on all the senses launched in 2011.

HAU intendant Annemie Vanackere has mentored Stuart’s career right from the start, and is convinced that ‘there is no one else who crosses and tears up boundaries so emphatically, and in so doing, places impressive sculptures of an interior life within a space.’ This was not the only reason that Vanackere offered the improvisation specialist the use of the HAU 3 as a workshop. After all, Stuart has been artistically homeless since her association with the Volksbühne ended in 2010.
In her wintry isolation, Stuart worked on Sketches/Notebook with a crew of nine performers in total peace. Unlike the performance Built to Last, which was supported by the huge infrastructure of a civic theatre, the attic room in HAU forced her to be modest in every way. It was this tight fit that stimulated the choreographer’s imagination, enabling her to get both feet back on the ground after the mega-production in Munich. ‘Large and small-scale performances have always been equally important to me. The contrast prevents you from becoming lazy. In the end, every work feels like a trek across the mountaintops – the thing you have only just built is then demolished. It’s always a paradoxical process.’

Sketches/Notebook is a programmatic title that not only stresses the fleeting moment, but also wants to get beneath the surface. ‘On the one hand, sketches are something very hurried and hastily composed, but they always capture the essence.’ The nine-strong team – five performers, musicians, a scenographer and a costume designer – conducted a graphic experiment with light and shadows. Just like designing a notebook. At the same time, Stuart once again wanted to ‘bring inner questions and conflicts out into the open’, thus remaining loyal to the leitmotiv that runs through her work. Behind this, as Stuart admits, is the wish to articulate the typical traits of modern life: a lack of freedom combined with a longing for communality. ‘Things are opening up,’ she believes, ‘we have lost all our certainties, but haven’t found the courage to try out other social models.’ No one can accuse her of being faint-hearted. Meg Stuart has always been a risk taker, and will always be aesthetically unpredictable.

Dorion Weickmann

Translation: Helen Simpson

09 Dec 2013
Kaleidoscopic sketchbook from outer space

Utopia Parkway
Hans-Maarten Post

Sketches/Notebook by Meg Stuart & Damaged Goods

A cowbell, lots of marbles rolling over the floor, a bag lady from outer space, and a drum kit producing sound without a drummer. I promise it will happen to you too. After Sketches/Notebook by Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods, you’ll find yourself sitting in the bar, with a smile on your face, humming the theme of a big blockbuster movie, slighty confused, trying to remember all the things you’ve just seen. Serious? Sketches/Notebook is a dance performance with such a kaleidoscopic scope that it ends up being something much more than a dance piece. Art collectors should be bidding for it.

As you enter the room, a pompous movie theme is playing. Looking for a place to sit at one of the four sides of the stage, you notice that the dancers and performers are getting ready. Some of them run around or roll on the floor. Others are busy with all kinds of props. Pieces of rock, a green cord, even a disco ball. A musician is tuning his guitar at one end of the stage, and then walks towards a drum kit on a small platform in the middle of the largest tribune for the audience.

A woman is dressed and undressed by a stylist, while a photographer is taking pictures of every new, weird outfit. You notice a glittering curtain, racks with clothes, and see that some seats are covered by an inclining wooden installation, as a big slide. As you’re discovering all of that, you notice that the movie theme seems to be on repeat. Endlessly. And you realize that all these ’preparations’ actually make up the opening scene of this dance performance.

Sketches/Notebook was created during a residency at Hebbel Am Ufer theater in Berlin. ‘A recurrent interest in the works of choreographer Meg Stuart is the search for new presentation contexts by continuously reformulating interdisciplinary forms of cooperation’, it says on her website, and Sketches/Notebook is indeed proof of that, bringing together dancers, a visual artist, a musician and a costume designer in a performance resembling a giant sketchbook; a continuous succession of scenes, in which many elements get to play a role. Dance and movement. Music and speech. Light and colour. Form and texture. Clothes and objects. Energy. It’s just a question of the emphasis shifting.

In one scene the performers are waving their arms up and down in duo’s, in another they seem to form letters on the floor with their bodies, or they resemble animals adhering Madonna’s Vogue-commando: strike a pose! One scene you’re bound to remember is the one in which Meg Stuart is dressed with duvets and blankets and becomes a bag lady from outer space, with coloured tape on her face and glittering bracelets on her arms.

Another one is the one in which a group of dancers is crawling slowly as one organism over the floor, trying not to leave behind the stuff (clothes, a cowbell) other dancers have squeezed into the rugby scrum this scene started out from. Or the closing scene, in which they’re all experimenting with spotlights, means to reflect that light, and filters to change the colour (not forgetting to hand out sunglasses to members of the audience sitting nearby).

What is impressive is that although Sketches/Notebook is quite a long piece it never becomes a tedious one. Your patience is never tested, and the audience is also never harassed (which happens often during this kind of performances). You never feel shut out. And however loose and ‘sketchlike’ all of this may feel, you notice that attention has been paid to all sorts of little details.

I remember thinking, as I left the theater, how generous this performance was. As an extravagant party set up especially for you. And how, by the way it plays with all these different elements it becomes much more than a dance performance. (You feel the presence of a visual artist, but a very special mention has to go out to Berlin-based fashion/costume designer Claudia Hill who – with two strange earpieces with antennas seems to receive orders from extra terrestrials – is continually changing the costumes and thus the general look of this performance.)
In that way it resembles The fault lines, another but more modest collaboration with visual artist Vladimir Miller. But this time around it really becomes a multifaceted performance that one could easily picture being a part of an art exhibition. Sketches/Notebook fits as much within the walls of a contemporary art museum as it fits within the walls of a theater. Loved it

04 Oct 2012
A liberating failure

De Morgen
Pieter T’Jonck

The American choreographer Meg Stuart appears to be breaking new ground with her new work Built to Last. Never before has she created a piece around existing music. This time everything revolves around monumental, classical compositions, created to stand the test of time, to defy the centuries. But if it’s in your blood, you can’t avoid it.

Four stars ****

Built to Last came about at the invitation of Johan Simons, the Münchner Kammerspiele’s current intendant. You can see this from the cast, which consists of performer Davis Freeman (Stuart’s brother) and dancers Anja Müller, Dragana Bulut and Maria Scaroni – all of whom were selected by Stuart herself. In addition, two of the Kammerspiele’s leading actors were also supposed to be taking part: Kristof Van Boven and Lena Lauzemis. Lauzemis dropped out due to injury, but Van Boven went on to carve out a place for himself, for all the world as if he’d spent his whole life dancing.

Half an hour before the end of this over two-hour long piece, it is Van Boven who expresses the concerns that go right to the heart of the performance. An essay about monumentalism by Bart Verschaffel inspired these. Humans, he claims, erect monuments to commemorate something or someone. As time passes, the first of these two meanings becomes irrevocably eroded. What is left is a stone object whose immovability makes it into a fixed point of reference in an ever-changing world. Monuments crystallise time: they are the diametric opposite of movement and life.

But is this also true of ‘monumental’ music? Music dramaturge Alain Franco has put together a collection of musical monuments. He begins with early music by Perotinus, then jumps to Beethoven’s Eroica and the late romanticism of Dvorák’s New World, finishing up with contemporary works such as Stockhausen’s Hymnen and Meredith Monk’s ‘Astronaut Anthem’. Rather than play the music in historical order, he uses it to create stark contrasts. At a certain moment, you might hear music designed to idealise something (Beethoven), only to find the following piece unravelling this idealising zeal (Stockhausen). It is an approach that results in an amazing musical rollercoaster and the meaning of the music becomes increasingly unsteady. Towards the end, recordings are also manipulated and stretched. The final composers, Gérard Grisey and Arnold Schoenberg, are thus barely recognisable.

The way the dancers use the music undermines the meaning within it even further. They go to every possible extreme by, for example, ‘supporting’ Dvorák’s ‘new world’ with tautly choreographed gestures that more closely resemble semaphore than dance. The dancers perform these movements whilst lying flat on their backs on the floor, which makes them seem even more absurd. The performers’ interpretation of the first movement of Beethoven’s third symphony could hardly be more different: they totally let rip to it. If it can be compared to anything, then perhaps it’s most like the impulsive reactions made by children to exciting, loud music. Neck-breaking turns and violent landings follow in quick succession. Somewhere amongst all this, there is also ‘proper dance’, such as Maria Scaroni’s bewitching interpretation of Yvonne Rainer’s Trio in A.

As if this clash between music, movement and text isn’t enough, scenographer Doris Dziersk throws a whole cartload of images on top of it. A bizarre, often stationary planetarium hanging over the stage, a digital screen the size of a man, weird masks, hilarious costumes, pointless props like a flail or a butterfly net, and even a life-size triplex model of a dinosaur. You can invent all manner of explanations for this, but none will hold up for long due to the unpredictable march of events. Everything keeps on moving, nothing crystallises.

As a result, Built to Last is extremely irritating at times, like a joke without a punch line, or a story leading nowhere. The long duration of the piece actually turns out to be an advantage in this case: the performers’ overwhelming drive gradually unleashes a feeling of liberation within you. It’s abundantly clear that the tale being told here isn’t an unambiguous one. You’ll never understand everything the performers want to tell you either about, or with the help of, the music. In this sense, the piece is a total ‘failure’. It is not a ‘monument’ that pins down a specific moment in time. But as a spectator, you also share this failure with the performers.

In the final analysis, Built to Last is about not being able to communicate, whilst continuing to try. In this, you suddenly recognise Meg Stuart’s hand.
“For me, movement expresses the longing to make contact, but movement also inherently expresses the failure of communication”, she comments in the programme. It is this that links Built to Last to earlier works like Forgeries, Blessed or Maybe Forever. But this performance simply propels you from one surprise to another.

Translation: Helen Simpson

08 Oct 2012
The power of failure

De Standaard
Sarah Vankersschaever

Have you ever eaten a succulent Big Mac with Beethoven playing in the background? No? You should try it. Afterwards, go and see Meg Stuart’s Built to Last. You’ll feel perfectly at home.

In her new choreography, Meg Stuart, known as the madwoman of modern dance, confronts five performers with overwhelming compositions from the classical music repertoire. Works that are landmarks in musical history. A careful selection was made by the conductor and pianist Alain Franco, as musical dramaturge: think of Ligeti’s Lontano, Schönberg’s Der Kranke Mond or Meredith Monk’s Astronaut Anthem. These are scores that music lovers would normally approach with reverence. Scores that pretty much any artist would approach with reverence. Except for Meg Stuart.

Collapsible Dinosaur
You begin to suspect something from the moment you walk in: the decor of Built to Last is rather too reminiscent of a playground for adults to stay serious for a whole performance. There’s a giant, collapsible dinosaur in the right hand corner, nine floating balls like a modest solar system suspended in mid-air, and a mobile cabin in the left hand corner. What more does a performer need to keep himself amused?

Nevertheless, and with a degree of seriousness, Built to Last starts out with the intention of succeeding in its aim: to lay bare the human condition by means of a confrontation between the choreography and the music. The three women and two men tense their muscles with rapt concentration to the sounds of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Hymnen Region 2. They then hobble across the stage like glorified robots, or nervous creatures, their arms swinging mechanically alongside their bodies. When performer Davis Freeman lets out a brutal laugh, the mood turns positively creepy. You’d almost be happy not to be sitting in the front row. But five minutes later, it becomes apparent that the suspense won’t be sustained for too long. One symphony follows another, and while a gigantic orchestra has clearly succeeded in producing piece after piece of stunning music, very little harmony is evidenced between the five performers on stage. They stumble around to the music like characters in a silent film: wordlessly, with grotesque movements and magnified emotions. Beethoven must be turning in his grave. Until, with a click of his fingers, performer Kristof Van Boven pulls out the plug and, in a split second, exposes the construction of this madness. The performers fall still, wipe away their sweat and then, from a sitting position, swell up when the violins in the next composition announce themselves. From vulnerability to inviolability, in Built to Last it is a question of pressing the shuffle button.

Middle Finger
And it carries on like this for almost two hours: with each new composition, the five begin with renewed courage on their search for the human condition, and for the possible impact of the music on human thought. They try, fail, try again, fail again, and in trying, fail.

Meg Stuart fails splendidly as a choreographer, in the theatricality of the performers (Davis Freeman and Kristof Van Boven are heavenly), in the inventiveness of the search and, above all, in so deliciously countering the gravitas that has been heaped upon the scores over the years. Wearing masks and wigs, the dancers sing along to Perotin, skip around in the stinking fumes of a smoke machine to Schönberg’s Der kranke Mond, and control the universe to the strains of Ligeti’s Atmospheres (or actually just make sure that they don’t bang their heads on the planets whirling around them). The tension between the seriousness of what we hear and the light-footedness of what we see is unpretentiously disarming.

In Built to Last, Stuart lays bare the ultimate human condition: longing and powerlessness, ambition and ignorance, the grandeur of a concept and the humility of mankind. In short, the power of failure. It is rare to see someone succeed in failing as magnificently and entertainingly as Meg Stuart does in Built to Last.

Built to Last by Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods. Seen at the Kaaitheater in Brussels.

Five stars *****

10 Oct 2012
Meg Stuart in Wonderland

Focus Knack
Els Van Steenberghe

The Play = Built to Last
Company = Damaged Goods
In one sentence = The essence of ‘being human’ is transformed here into a colourful dance parade beneath the Milky Way, with a truly exceptional end piece as the cherry on this classic cake.
High point = The beautiful closing image where the ‘Milky Way’ hanging above the stage is sublimely ‘multiplied’. This may sound cryptic, but it would be a sin to give any more away.
Score = three stars * * *

Can a brilliant actor also be a brilliant dancer? Yes. Kristof Van Boven proves it. Kristof who? Kristof Van Boven (b.1981) was one of the Ghent National Theatre’s star actors when it was under the leadership of Johan Simons. Simons’ departure for the Münchner Kammerspiele (in 2010) also meant the departure of Van Boven. He followed Simons to Munich, where he was a huge success, as evidenced by the many prizes for acting that he has since been awarded in Germany.

Van Boven acquits himself rather well in his guise as a dancer. Or rather: he dances the stars from the sky and in Built to Last, rather fittingly, he does this with scenery that resembles an abstract version of the Milky Way. It is thus immediately clear what Meg Stuart wants to do with this performance: to put a world on the stage. Not the world of our blue planet. Another world. A wonderful world - one in which classical music steers the emotions and movements of its inhabitants. That’s exactly the approach taken in this piece: ‘can you do more with classical music than respectfully create carefully-wrought steps?’

During the première in Munich, classical music lovers only just stopped short of crying blue murder (mainly because the music was so loud that it drowned out their cries). Which is to say: Stuart got up a few people’s noses and had the Münchner Kammerspiele’s rather traditional audience up in arms at first. It was only during its long run that Built to Last found its true audience – an audience that shares Meg Stuart’s enthusiasm for letting rip to the music of the likes of Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Rachmaninov, Antonin Dvorák, Arnold Schönberg and György Ligeti.

The performance is a relay of dance moves, constantly interrupted by short breaks. During one of these breaks, Van Boven addresses the audience: ‘It is love and enthusiasm that drive us’, which sounds like an apology for the rather odd piece – it looked like a kind of primal dance of the robots – that had just been danced. Stuart literally allows her dancers to explore every corner of the stage, but also allows them to evoke every possible nuance of dance: from robotic movements to intimacy, or skipping around in a cloud of smoke in a thoroughly romantic way whilst music by Arnold Schönberg pours from the speakers. Everything is possible. Everything is built up and then destroyed again. Built to Last. Doris Dziersks’ decor – which looks like a playground for adults – is an excellent tool for this.

As the slightly spun-out performance progresses, you become accustomed to Stuart’s absurd, associative fantasy. You wander through it like Alice in Wonderland. Along the way, the dancers – led by Kristof Van Boven – develop their own little personalities with their passions, longings, questions and doubts. The essence of ‘being human’ is transformed into a colourful dance parade beneath the Milky Way and a truly exceptional end piece is the cherry on this classic cake.

Translation Helen Simpson

Sep 2012
Music is potentially always a threat

Jeroen Versteele

Meg Stuart makes Built to Last at the Münchner Kammerspiele

At the end of April, Meg Stuart’s new production Built to Last premiered in Munich. The piece is the first co-production between her Brussels-based dance company Damaged Goods and the Münchner Kammerspiele, led by Johan Simons since 2010-2011. This was also the first time that Meg Stuart had worked with existing classical music and with a musical dramaturge, Alain Franco. The piece was performed in early October at the Kaaitheater. Jeroen Versteele, the Kammerspiele’s dramaturge, shares his impression of the creative process.

During the first month, we’re mostly listening to music, discussing the concepts of ‘sainthood’ and ‘monumentality’ and improvising around these themes. Is it possible to design a monument both physically and emotionally? Alain Franco plays us even more famous musical pieces, taken from different eras and from a wide range of styles.

The atmosphere is tense, and rather sad: yesterday, actress Lena Lauzemis fell off a ladder, seriously injuring her knee. She’s sitting propped up against the dance studio wall, on the verge of tears, determinedly preparing the lines that she is about to deliver – sitting down – during the run-through.

‘Music is always travelling away from its point of origin towards its destination in the fleeting moment at which someone experiences it – be that during yesterday evening’s concert or during this morning’s solitary jog.’ In the introduction to his wonderful work The Rest is Noise. Listening to the Twentieth Century the American journalist Alex Ross reveals the connections between musical and social developments over the past century, and simultaneously explains how situation-specific, how subjective the physical experience of music actually is. ‘Since 1900, musical histories have often been presented as teleological stories, accounts with the narrator’s eye firmly trained on a final objective, which are full of great leaps forward and heroic fights with the narrow-minded bourgeoisie. (…) Whether the course of history actually has anything to do with music is the subject of fierce debate. (…) The meaning of music is vague, changeable and ultimately highly personal. But even though history cannot tell us with any certainty what music really means, music can tell us something about history.’
By coincidence, I came across a copy of Ross’ book a few days before I met Meg Stuart in Berlin to discuss Creation 2012 for the first time – it wasn’t until a year later that the working title would be changed to Built to Last. It’s March 2011. Quotes from the first few chapters of The Rest is Noise come to mind when Stuart explains that she doesn’t yet know anything about the new performance, except for the music, for which she has a suggestion to make. ‘I want to explore how I can react with my performers to an overwhelming, symphonic musical score,’ she says. ‘This is a very intuitive idea. I usually work with new compositions and live musicians. I have never worked before with existing, classical music. In September I’ll be organising a first, exploratory workshop with the performers, and if I see it’s not working, we’ll do something different.’
I can’t help noticing that Meg Stuart already seems to have made up her mind. She is struggling to put it into words, but her idea has depth. ‘In my experience, listening to one of Beethoven’s famous symphonies drains you of energy. When confronted with such a masterpiece, you feel powerless. If you try to relate to it, you soon find yourself in a zone of shame, of human failure. And that’s the zone where things can go wrong.’
Currently, Stuart is putting the finishing touches to VIOLET, a piece that is to be premiered in Essen in a few weeks’ time. ‘This performance will be an abstract trip, a kind of trance,’ she says of it. ‘A tunnel of intensity. Repetitive and totally without irony. Creation 2012 could be more about a kind of social consciousness. I want to highlight the confrontation with classical masterpieces. It’s all about vulnerability and modesty. And humour. Modern dancers and actors doing something to a Beethoven soundtrack: I reckon that could turn out to be very funny.’

May 2011, Munich. Meg Stuart and I are sitting in the canteen of the Münchner Kammerspiele, the theatre where Johan Simons works as intendant, and which will be co-producing Creation 2012 in collaboration with Damaged Goods. This will be this illustrious repertory theatre’s first ever dance production. It’s also a first for Meg Stuart: this is her first choreography in Bavaria. Stuart is well known in Berlin, Zurich and Vienna, but not yet in Munich. So to give her some exposure here, we’re performing Stuart’s Do Animals Cry, a performance from 2009. This is to be staged in the Spielhalle, where next year Creation 2012 will also be performed. The Münchner Kammerspiele is a city theatre with a repertoire system (every evening, a different piece is performed in the Schauspielhaus, taken from a pool of some twenty five in-house productions), but in the Spielhalle – a compact, flexible, ‘industrial’ hall for more experimental work – we have been using an ensuite system since the arrival of Johan Simons. Productions play here for two months, after which a new piece starts its run.
The dancers are warming up and Meg Stuart is telling me about hoarders, people who obsessively collect things. They try to get to grips with reality by incessantly collecting things: newspapers, plastic boxes, bicycle tyres, toys, electronic goods, frozen food, absurd archives, anything you can imagine. They can’t throw anything away, cling on to everything, and create an immense, cluttered, often dangerous chaos. Homer and Langley Collyer were famous hoarders, who in New York early in the previous century, created a gigantic collection space in their house, where they eventually died together. One of the brothers was buried beneath a heap of rubbish while trying to bring food to his other brother, who was blind and had become hemmed in between heaps of junk. The blind brother died of starvation days later.

A preparatory workshop in Berlin is coming to a close. It’s September 2011. Music dramaturge Alain Franco introduces his first contribution to the soundtrack: two movements from Beethoven’s Third Symphony, a pinnacle of classicism, better known as the Eroïca, ‘a piece in memory of a great man’. Beethoven, a passionate supporter of the French Revolution, dedicated his symphony to Napoleon, whom he likened to the demigod Prometheus. When Napoleon crowned himself emperor and began acting like a dictator, the disappointed composer added to his dedication the words that Napoleon ‘was, in the end, no more than a man like everyone else’, but in spite of this, his Eroïca still breathes the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. The uncompromising idealism that resonates through this grand, sparkling, epic music is that of a bygone, more hopeful age. The dancers and actors lie on their backs and listen.
‘Beethoven is the pivotal figure in a historical fantasy in which contemporary listeners love to indulge’, Franco explains. ‘He represents the fantasy of classicism that merely represents established certainties, and conveys an unshakable belief in a future where boundaries will be challenged. He is the ultimate heir to the ‘classical’. On the other hand, Beethoven can be seen - and this is even more important - as the founder of musical philosophy, just as Hegel was the founder of historical philosophy. In this sense, it’s no surprise that I want to give his music a central role in the performance.’

After two months of rehearsals in Berlin, we’ll be spending the last four weeks in Munich. For Kristof Van Boven and Lena Lauzemis, actors at the Kammerspiele and ‘serving’ in a number of repertory performances, this means a lot of flying back and forth during this first rehearsal phase. Van Boven, especially, is regularly absent from rehearsals, which for Meg Stuart is far from ideal given her group-oriented way of working.
The first month mostly involves listening to music, as well as discussing the concepts of ‘sainthood’ and ‘monumentality’ and improvising around them. Is it possible to design a monument not only physically, but also emotionally? Alain Franco plays even more famous musical pieces taken from different eras and a wide range of styles. They all have one thing in common: they are pioneering works, cornerstones of art history. Early on, the decision is taken that the performance will begin with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s 1967 composition Hymnen, an electronic montage of some forty national anthems, interspersed with war and nature sound effects. Hard tones signal to the performers, who are standing stock still, to start making unpredictable hand and arm movements, prompting a new consciousness of space and location.
‘Stockhausen creates his first tension builder with the idea of Beethoven’s classical idealism,’ Franco explains. ‘He holds up a mirror to reality, by giving us the sounds of patriotic hymns in a context that could not be further removed from that of proud nationalism.’
A second tension builder is introduced not long after this, with the piece Thallein by Iannis Xenakis – who, just like Stockhausen, was scarred by the Second World War and was a co-founder of new musical notations and methods.
Franco: ‘Xenakis introduced stochastic music, which rests on formulas of playing theory and chance calculation. This demonstrates his blind faith in mathematical values as the foundation of art and communication. The laws of arithmetic ratios, stripped of values and ideology, as an answer to a world from which any sense of justice has been sucked away.’ We hear a grandiose example of Xenakis’ approach in Thallein, a naughty sounding composition that is both provocative and rhythmic.
While we are listening to this music, there’s a playful moment between the performers Davis Freeman and Kristof Van Boven: an improvisation lasting a matter of seconds where one appears to be pursuing the other. Meg Stuart notices the interaction and asks them to repeat it, only in a more exaggerated, expressionistic way. The other performers are asked to come up with variations on this hunting scene. This is the coincidental beginning of what will turn out to be a burlesque, impressive theatrical sequence.
‘We were just mucking around', Van Boven later tells me when he’s recalling how the scene came about. ‘We let the music tell us what we had to do. Really, every scene is a new attempt to maintain form. For her choreographies, Meg never allows us to draw on existing databanks of human movements and subsequent effect they have on the spectator. Every movement is created afresh, is always motivated by a sense of longing. The music is frequently bombastic, self-assured, rich in shading and detail. The way we handle our bodies in this piece should go just as far, should have an equally complex meaning. There is no direct, readable relationship between our movements and an emotional effect on the spectator. There is only the continual, searching attempt to try and give shape and to stand firm in the face of the music. Humans are not statues. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what this performance is about.’

All the rehearsals and the run-throughs of the scenes that had taken shape are videoed, and we watch them together afterwards. The video camera proves to be a particularly useful tool for the twenty-minute scene set to Beethoven’s Eroïca. The performers have agreed on some of the broad brushstrokes that they will be sketching out in the space as a group, but their personal courses are not fully defined. ‘Thanks to the recordings, we’re managing to get a feel for the way the group communicates as a whole,’ says Anja Müller, the German dancer who previously performed in Do Animals Cry. ‘During rehearsals, you always react very subjectively, precisely because there are no fixed rules. You have no choice but to react impulsively to the music and to respond to the energy of your co-performers.’
‘As if we are all playing together in an orchestra,’ that’s how the Italian dancer Maria F. Scaroni describes the feeling she had after the rehearsal. ‘If we were all to play in exactly the same key, the piece would have no visual appeal. It’s about developing the right level of individual tension and tuning it into that of your colleagues. The most important thing that Meg asked us to do at the start of the rehearsals was to move in “a state of listening”. We often perform exercises in what she describes as “tuning”: searching for a state of relaxed concentration, in which you can react freely and impulsively to external factors.’
The Eroïca is firmly fixed at the heart of the musical dramaturgy. But it’s not only Stockhausen’s critical, almost parodic Hymnen that acts as a contrast to the romantic ideal of Beethoven. Staub, by the famous German composer Helmut Lachenmann, two sections of which finally appear in the performance, was explicitly written as a commentary on Beethoven, albeit with references to his other world-famous symphony, the Ninth. Originally, Franco planned to position Staub in amongst the Eroïca, but during the rehearsals, he finds a better place for it: just before the Eroïca, during a Maria F. Scaroni solo that up to that point had always taken place in silence.
Scaroni: ‘We performed a “tuning” exercise to Stockhausen music and out of this I created a solo based on Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A. Rainer’s NO Manifesto is a plea for a non-virtuoso, unspectacular dance language: no to the heroic, no to style, no to eccentricity... I linked this philosophy to the playful, uncomplicated movements of a pedestrian on the street. During one of the run-throughs, the solo happened to take place during a long silence. I found this very beautiful and fitting. Silence allows us to listen to music. It was Alain’s idea to finally bring in Staub a the end of the silent solo.’

Lontano by György Ligeti, Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninov, Antonin Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony From the New World, Perotinus’ Sederunt Principes, ‘Der kranke Mond’ from Arnold Schönberg’s Pierrot Lunaire cycle, … Every one of these pieces, drawn from incredibly diverse periods, has its own distinctive ideology and is connected to new technological, and often also ideological, insights. For example, Dvořák’s piece was created during his first voyage to America, from where he wrote in 1893: ‘I am now convinced that this country’s future music must be built on what are known as nigger melodies. All the great musicians have borrowed heavily from the songs of ordinary people. Beethoven’s most appealing scherzo is based on what could currently be described as an expertly applied nigger melody. (…) In America’s nigger melodies I am discovering all that is needed for a great, noble musical tradition. They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, brutal, lively, cheerful, whatever you like.’
Set to Dvořák’s heroic music, we create an insect-esque arm ballet that reminds me of a scene from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The four women lie in a row, heads towards the audience, and perform ever-faster variations on a small number of mechanical arm movements: impressive and enthralling.
‘A time machine’ is how Meg Stuart describes the soundtrack’s relationship to the performers. ‘You are going back and forth in time, discovering new worlds that you have to deal with time and time again.’
Dramaturge Bart Van den Eynde came across an extract from Slavoj Žižeks The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema on YouTube, in which the philosopher discusses the role of music in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator: ‘The same music that served evil purposes can be redeemed to serve the Good. Or it can be read in a much more ambiguous way. With music we cannot ever be sure. In so far as it externalizes our inner passion music is potentially always a threat.’

‘The rehearsal space itself gradually becomes a growing archive, in which we’re collecting information and fascinations, like hoarders,’ muses Maria F. Scaroni during the break. ‘Alain Franco’s speeches about his take on musical history, Schönberg’s atonal music, and Xenakis’ stochastic music are also part of the space. Just like the philosophical reflections on sainthood and monumentality, written by cultural philosopher Bart Verschaffel. It goes without saying that we would never base an improvisation on stochastic musical theory - input by Meg and by us is always emotional and impulsive - but still, the knowledge-laden atmosphere that permeates the rehearsals is incredibly important.’
‘We need this sort of shared thinking space,’ confirms Anja Müller. We all have totally different personal and artistic backgrounds. We share five different native languages. It has taken a long time for us to bond together as a group: each of us has our own aesthetic sense, our own expectations. Sometimes I need something that I don’t get; sometimes I get too much of something that I have no need of at all.’
Maria F. Scaroni: ‘During the rehearsal, one individual might sometimes have the desire to go deeper into something, but the collective task demands that we stay with the idea, follow the group dynamic.’
Anja Müller: ‘The result of this sort of process, involving international artists plucked from different contexts, is always going to be enormously enriching. Each one of us is continually questioning our self.’

After the application of a certain amount of pressure by Münchner Kammerspiele’s communication department, the white smoke finally appears - just in the nick of time for their monthly calendar print deadline: Creation 2012 is rechristened Built to Last. ‘Things are made with an inbuilt obsolescence,’ Meg Stuart explains in the bar after the rehearsal. ‘The title has a provocative edge. We always want to create new things. But at the same time everyone has the feeling that the end of the world is nigh, and everyone is secretly preparing for it. Sad, but true.’
A few days later we find ourselves in the bar again, chatting over a beer about a scene that we have altered quite dramatically today. ‘Rebuilt to last’, I say. ‘That’s even better!’ says Stuart. ‘Can we still change the title?’ But it’s too late: the monthly calendar is already at the printers.

24 March 2012, the Uferstudios in Berlin. Today is the last rehearsal day in the German capital; next week the team will be moving to Munich. Tonight there will be a run-through for friends and colleagues from the Damaged Goods network. The atmosphere is tense, and rather sad: yesterday, actress Lena Lauzemis fell off a ladder, seriously injuring her knee. She’s sitting propped up against the dance studio wall, on the verge of tears, determinedly preparing the lines that she is about to deliver – sitting down – during the run-through.
After the run-through, Lauzemis decides to throw in the towel. Her knee will require an operation, which will be followed by a long recovery period. If she is extremely careful, her doctor says that the operation could be delayed until after the premiere, but she doesn’t see the point. Dancing with extreme care…?

The first rehearsal day in Munich. We notice that without Lauzemis, the group scenes take on a totally different dynamic. The twenty-minute group scene on the Eroïca feels like a Christmas dinner with a family member missing. The scene with the arm ballet is quite simply missing an extra pair of arms: four pairs are visually so much stronger than three. While we are waiting for the decision about whether Lauzemis will be replaced, Davis Freeman lies down beside his female colleagues and starts practicing the arm movements. ‘You’ll have to shave your arms, Davis’, laughs Meg Stuart.

Lena Lauzemis will not be replaced. The performance will be completed with five performers. This is not the only change that is made shortly after our arrival in Munich. A gigantic screen, which was to be set up behind the stage and lit so that it constantly changed colour, is also sacrificed: scenographer Doris Dziersk finds the Spielhalle’s natural state much more beautiful, including the artillery of old-fashioned spotlights up against the back wall – ‘a graveyard of lights’, Meg Stuart confirms. The mobile, an abstract sort of planetarium hanging from the roof that rotates mechanically, works here for the first time, and inspires some spectacular looking improvisations. To Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, Anja Müller glides through the universe, striking leaders’ poses. Her statuesque poses are filled with a growing despair, because the turning planets sometimes launch treacherous attacks on her.
‘How powerful you are,’ reflects Stuart afterwards on stage. ‘Look how far you can go in the creation of your own reality.’
This makes me think of the hoarders that we haven’t spoken of in months but who, in their crazy attempt to order the world around them with their collections, still permeate the images we’re developing during rehearsals.

We’re watching video recordings, over and over again, of new versions in Munich and old versions in Berlin: the sequence set to Beethoven’s Eroïca is dissected, discussed and compared almost daily. Meg Stuart saves all the recordings on hard drives. She knows exactly who does what at every moment of every recording. She talks to the performers about the game that they are playing with one another in the scene, about constantly re-discovering the rules, about the state of destabilisation, about the physical reconstruction of a symphony and the shameful, unavoidable failure to do it. She talks about collective rituals, about het question of how a group can share an ideology and express it. She doesn’t want to see any fixed structures, tricks or ideas, but instead to see performers making conscious choices all the time. ‘Every moment you can step out.’ Every moment you can show your free will. Not psychology, just humanity.
‘Most of my pieces examine a specific state of consciousness,’ Stuart tells me later on. ‘But this piece is more about practicing different forms and situations. The meaning of many of the scenes is all in the shades of difference, in the small gestures and looks that infuse iconographic images and great announcements with humanity. That’s the crazy thing about dance: it is all about concrete shapes and movements and at the same time it allows you to communicate more deeply, to describe inter-human connections.’

‘Let’s just say that irony is going to be one of the key flavours of the performance,’ Maria F. Scaroni tells me after a rehearsal. ‘It is often rather tongue in cheek. The parodic nature of our movements is a consequence of the grandeur of the music and a certain emotional ignorance with which we approach it. The relationship between the musical material and us is out of kilter. As if you can rehearse every day with Beethoven, Bruckner and Rachmaninov and say to them “Hi, how’s it going today?” All you can do is to try and remain honest at all times, to accept your own imperfections and to behave modestly. We are dealing with masterpieces in a playful way. We are actually taking it very seriously. Just like children can sometimes play very seriously.’

A run-through, three days before the premiere. Johan Simons comes to take a look and is delighted with the closing image, which has been a subject of fierce debate in the last few days: ‘Beautiful. The players are holding the world in their hands, or that’s how it seems to me.’

The day before the premiere. Meg Stuart sees all her players as ‘performers’ but within the context of the Münchner Kammerspiele, the collaboration between dancers and actors is an important theme. ‘Actors normally need certain tools: text, a concrete situation, attributes… explains Kristof Van Boven. ‘For dancers, on the other hand, an empty space is a highly usable thing. They use other tentacles, create movements from different impulses. I also admire dancers’ ability to trust a good discovery, and not to then endlessly mess around with it, as actors are prone to do. The added value I can bring to the performance as an actor is my distaste for a ‘loaded atmosphere’. If a situation on stage becomes falsely sentimental, I try to do something to turn the space back into just a stage instead of a shrine.’

And then: the premiere, the big eyes and careful words of the theatre staff; the storm of reviews and critiques in blogs, in newspapers and magazines; actors from the Kammerspiele who wish that more actors had taken part; actors who would have like to have been involved themselves; performances for forty people; performances for a full house of season-ticket holders with forty people walking out; the delighted reactions of people who love the idea that they can see something like this in Munich; audience members who call out to me in the street that the loud volume is a crime; the crowds who come to listen to the introduction that I give before each performance and the genuine interest I pick up on when I talk about Meg Stuart’s first production Disfigure Study in Leuven; Meg Stuart’s revitalising re-appearance in the middle of the run-through; her criticism of the way in which the ‘searching, buoyant shape of many of the scenes has been melted down into an all too well-aimed aesthetic’; Davis Freeman arguing in vain in the Theaterleitung for performances scheduled during FC Bayern München – Chelsea (Champions League final) and Germany – Portugal (deciding European Championship game) to be cancelled; our wounded pride when we played twice in a row for an audience of less than thirty; the sudden appearance of a surprising number of students from the music conservatory; the rapidly swelling audience numbers and the two last performances which, despite being on ‘open sale’ are almost completely sold out; frenzied applause with stamping in the aisles after the final performance. A real climax, just as the performance itself reaches its climax. For a moment, it feels as though the world is at out feet.

Built to Last has been performed from 4 to 6 October in Brussels (Kaaitheater), on 11 October in Leuven (Stadsschouwburg) and will be performed from 2 to 4 May in Antwerp (deSingel).


The original Dutch version was commissioned by Etcetera and appeared in Etcetera 130 (Sept 2012).
Translation : Helen Simpson.

06 Mar 2013
Moving the viewer

thalo Magazine
Alena Giesche

Dance choreographer Meg Stuart takes her audience on a demanding and powerful journey with new creation, VIOLET.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - Meg Stuart, born 1965 in New Orleans, Louisiana, is one of Europe’s most prominent dance choreographers. Her Brussels-based company, Damaged Goods, was founded in 1994 and has since supported the creation of over 20 evening-length works that have won her much international acclaim including the prestigious Bessie Award in 2008. Stuart’s work spans solo performance, large-scale installations, improvisation, and film—an expansive range for a single artist. If you enjoy artists with consistent style, then Meg Stuart’s rapidly evolving repertoire will likely be perplexing.

Indeed, Stuart seems intent on subverting her own habits and pushing her choreography to untested—perhaps uncomfortable—grounds. As a result, her work constantly reinvents itself and has avoided clear definition. Stuart’s movement research propels her dancers to explore the unknown—the naked essence or inner psychology of the body. Her most recent work, VIOLET, also creates an intense visceral experience for the viewer.

VIOLET begins with a flash of light jolting my senses into high alert. Five dancers in a straight line begin on a bare stage in utter stillness, leaving me searching for what movement will begin the piece. Bit by bit, a scan reveals a finger stirring or an elbow shifting. The five dancers, never in unison yet still in accordance, accelerate their pace so gradually that I hardly notice the slip into a frenzied universe of swinging arms, repetition over repetition, the sheer energetic charge mixing agony with bliss.
The dancing is coupled with urgent, pounding, and in fact deafening music, engineered with laptop and drum set by live musician Brendan Dougherty. As the electronic music expands and shapes the room with its droning pulse, I notice the audience moving uncomfortably—muscles involuntarily gripping and heaving. It becomes so intense that the sound of a dancer screaming at the top of her lungs is still obscured by the music. And then—a sudden stop. The five dancers, breathless, stand still at the edge of the stage and watch the audience. Staring back, I feel as if I had just come from a crowded, stuffy dance floor into a cool, muffled bathroom only to see my face silently reflected in the mirror.

At one point, a dreamy landscape punctuated by intense, rainbow lighting emerges. One dancer makes the first physical contact with another, and then all five are rolling as an enormous conjoined organism around the stage, limbs crossing and folding in undecipherable harmony.

This piece is not for the timid or sensitive. During the performance in Paris, six people left the show in the first twenty minutes—an act that only fueled my own desire to stay. Beware: the 80-minute show is literally exhausting to watch if you arrive in a state of tension. Like a drug trip, a magnification of your own state of mind is possible, since VIOLET plays with experience of the present moment. Though Stuart’s work tends to be challenging, there is something trancelike and quite unforgettable about the journey.

14 Jan 2012
Forget about a Paper Moon: This Swan’s Cardboard

The New York Times
Claudia La Rocco

The man sits inside the dubious shelter of hit little cardboard shack, staring out at strangers. The strangers stare back. His body makes little twitches. The palm tree and giant swan, also cardboard, are slowly wilting, as his roof. It has been raining, and hard, for a long time now.

The man is Francisco Camacho, and his world is “Blessed” (and also, it seems, damned).
Created by Meg Stuart with Mr. Camacho and two ancillary performers, the 80-minute mostly solo work, from 2007, is being performed at New York Live Arts, where it had is North American premiere on Thursday.

Mr. Camacho is a compelling, enigmatic presence. Following him, we are plunged into a world at one particular and anonymous. The set (by Doris Dziersk). The downpour and a persistent, ominous sense that something is not right calls to mind the feel of Joan Didion’s novel “The Last Thing He Wanted”, which centers on an American woman embroiled in an international conspiracy on a beleaguered tropical island. “She liked the place empty,” Mr. Didion writes. “She liked the way the shutters had started losing their slats. She liked the low clouds, the glitter on the sea, the pervasive smell of mildew and bananas.”

In BLESSED the smell is wet cardboard. Soon enough, the set has all collapsed, leaving Mr. Camacho to seek shelter as best he can among the soggy, crumpled forms. The rain continues in bursts. Jan Maertens’s lighting offers hazy spotlights and harsh glares, or all but disappears to create a semi-gloom. Hahn Rowe’s spooky, electronic score, though more boilerplate than his typically distinctive compositions, sets a spooky, alienated mood.

Who and what is this man meant to be? His movement strange and stylized, shifts through varied registers. He walks in smooth, sliding steps, holding his body in semi-profile, like a figure from a frieze come almost to life. He bows down to the regally curving neck of the swan before it has sagged over, mimicking a ballet swan. Later he crawls in rapid, jerky trajectories, like a rodent seeking some morsel of sustenance.

Mr. Camacho’s watchers must ferret out their sustenance too. Ms. Stuart frequently plays with the oblique and the tedious, often with thoughtful results. But at a certain point on Thursday my experience shifted from feeling caught up within the poetic vagaries of a live work to constructing, from a remove, intellectual hypotheses about it.

The catalyst for this shift might have been Mr. Camacho’s donning a mask with read beard and multicolored afro (the costumes are by Jean-Paul Lespagnard) and morphing into a jokey, sinister figure with slinky, sexualized movements. Much later Kotomi Nishiwaki makes an appearance as a dancer from what might have been a Las Vegas casino routine, mugging it up and prancing about as Mr. Camacho sits amid the wet ruins, his mouth pulled into a terrible, teeth-baring grimace.

You could think of cultural imperialism and of natural disasters in countries where tourism rebounds ling before the victims do. (Mr. Camacho eventually gets his own dress-up moment, as Abrahan Hurtado puts a series of outlandish costumes on his frame, while Mr. Camacho stands with his arms outstretched, his eyes rolling back in his head like a cross between a mystic and an imbecile.)

But nothing matches the power of Mr. Camacho’s early stillness. As BLESSED grows more involved, its meaning seems increasingly imposed from without, and its internal mysteries dim.

07 Oct 2011
Batterieladungen mit einem Hauch von Menschlichkeit
[ German ]
Der Westen
Sarah Heppekausen

Essen. Uraufführung im PACT Zollverein: Die Kompanie „Damaged Goods“ tanzt Meg Stuarts „VIOLET“ und zieht damit weiter nach Avignon.

Ein gewaltiger Abend. Physisch beanspruchend bis in den letzten Nerv, für die Tänzer, fürs Publikum. Wie gewohnt sind Meg Stuarts Tänzer seelisches Leiden in körperlicher, widerholender Bewegung. Der stumme Schrei, die zitternden Hände, die Zuckungen am Boden zeugen von Zerbrechlichkeit. Und doch ist diesmal alles anders.

In „VIOLET“, das die amerikanische Radikal-Choreografin mit ihrer Kompanie „Damaged Goods“ im Essener PACT Zollverein uraufführte, bevor sie damit weiter zum Festival d’Avignon zieht, sind die Bewegungen geschichtenlos. Die Tänzer liefern keine Persönlichkeitsstudien, kämpfen weder gegen Naturkatastrophen (wie in „Blessed“) noch gegen Familienmitglieder (wie in „Do Animals Cry“). „VIOLET“ bleibt abstrakt, das Chaos komponiert.

Hinter den Tänzern steht eine schwarz-glänzende. An einigen Stellen sind Dellen, als hätte jemand darauf eingetreten. Ein gebrochener Spiegel, Sinnbild einer wunden Seelenlandschaft. Zu Beginn stehen die fünf Tänzer davor, drehen und heben ihre Glieder nur minimal, bis sich ihre Bewegung steigert zum Fingerflattern, Armrudern, Kopfschlackern. Die Performer bringen nicht das Monster im Menschen zum Vorschein, sondern übersetzen Physik in menschliche Bewegung.

Ihr Akku ist die Musik. Zum ersten Mal arbeitete Meg Stuart mit Brendan Dougherty zusammen. Doughertys elektronische Klänge und sein Percussionspiel hämmern sich dem Zuschauer mit einer Intensität ein, die auch überfordert. Wie ein Finale, das nicht endet, das permanent auf dem Höhepunkt bleibt und so körperlich erfahrbar wird, als Energie und Triebkraft.

Dann ist es plötzlich wieder still. Ruhe nach dem Orkan. Die Bewegungen der Tänzer werden dementsprechend langsamer, sanfter. Paare berühren sich, ein Hauch von Menschlichkeit in dieser Ansammlung batteriegeladener Betriebsamkeit. Als Pulk rollen sie mit- und übereinander im Kreis, dann neue Beats, neue Drehungen. Nur Stillstand, den gibt es nicht.

08 Jul 2011
Beeindruckender Wutschmerz
[ German ]
Nicole Strecker

"Violet" von Meg Stuart in Essen uraufgeführt

Die Tänzerin und Choreografin Meg Stuart inszeniert das Scheitern, seit 1994. Und damit hat sie stilbildend gewirkt auf den zeitgenössischen Tanz, vor allem in Deutschland. In ihrem neuen Stück kehrt sie zurück zu ihren Anfängen, hinterfragt die eigene Ästhetik mit "Violet".

Ein Choreograf kann noch so sehr das Abstrakte wollen, die pure Bewegung skelettieren, ganz ohne das Fleisch von Ausdruck und Erzählung - im Kopf des Zuschauers wird an den Chiffren dann doch wieder so lange herumgedeutelt, bis sie irgendetwas erzählen. Ein Körper auf der Bühne wird die Last der Repräsentation nicht los - das wusste Meg Stuart schon, bevor sie mit "Violet" ein, wie es vorab hieß, abstraktes Stück kreieren wollte. Und sie hat es trotzdem getan.

Eine meterhohe schwarze, leicht gebogene Plastikwand begrenzt den Bühnenhintergrund. Sie glänzt wie Latex und spiegelt manchmal schemenhaft und verzerrt die Tänzerkörper. Vor ihr stehen drei Männer und zwei Frauen in Alltagsklamotten von erlesen schlechtem Geschmack. Fünf sehr individuelle Tänzertypen, zu Beginn scheinbar bewegungslos. Nur langsam beleben sich ihre Körper, vor allem die Hände und Arme. Als wäre sie eine fremde Gliedmaße beginnt eine Hand sich nach außen in eine unnatürliche Position zu drehen, ein Arm hebt und senkt sich so roboterhaft als hätte sich der Körperteil verselbstständigt und werde wie bei der neurologischen Störung des "Alien Hand Syndroms" nicht mehr vom Bewusstsein kontrolliert.

Maschinenmenschen. Ein triadisches Ballett in Meg Stuarts Version. Später wird noch der übliche Zitter-Zappel-Zuck-Stil der Choreografin dazukommen. Körper, die ein namenloser Schmerz zu erschüttern scheint. Kreaturen, die Krämpfe, Spasmen und Ticks vorwärts, bis in den erschöpften Kollaps treiben. Dazu ein dröhnender Industrie-Soundtrack vom live auf der Bühne spielenden Komponisten Brendan Dougherty, der mit seiner dauerhaften Lautstärke auch für den Zuschauer zur physischen Anstrengung wird.

Früher waren Stuarts Extrem-Bewegungen durch einen Kontext, ein Thema motiviert. In den ergiebigsten Schreckenskammern der Menschheit hat sie schon gestöbert, hat sich von Liebesmartern, Familienhöllen, Naturkatastrophen, oder plastischer Chirurgie und "Humanoptimierung" inspirieren lassen. Und immer ist auf ihrer Bühne dann nichts so lebendig wie das Kaputte.

In "Violet" nun arrangiert sie ihre Tänzer in fast Cunningham'scher Manier als Bewegungsträger und energetische Muster im Raum. Sie befragt ihr Vokabular, zeigt seine emotional überwältigende Kraft und bizarre Fremdheit: Ein Mann kreiselt auf verschiedenen Körperebenen, als jongliere er mehrere Hula-Hoop-Reifen. Eine Frau fuchtelt mit den Armen wie eine herumorakelnde Hexe. Und irgendwann liegen drei Tänzer auf dem Bauch, ihre Oberkörper pumpen auf und ab fast wie in einem Unisono - und doch sieht die Bewegung bei jedem anders aus: Die eine scheint von einem Weinen geschüttelt, eine andere schaukelt rhythmisch wie bei einer Kopulationsbewegung, und bei einem dritten werden die Ruckler so heftig, als wären sie die letzten Erschütterungen einer verendenden Kreatur. Nur Nuancen entscheiden über den Ausdruck.

Von der behutsamen Animation über den hysterischen Ausbruch bis letztlich zur unausweichlichen langgezogenen Depression - der klug-strapaziöse Abend demonstriert ebenso den Variantenreichtum von Meg Stuarts Vokabular, wie auch seine Vorliebe für die Verzweiflung. Und so beeindruckt am Ende, trotz Abstraktion und puristischer Bewegungsforschung, halt doch wieder vor allem der Stuart'sche Wutschmerz. Für illusionslosen Existenzialismus braucht es keinen Grund.

21 Jul 2011
Shellshocked, but extremely alive

Utopia Parkway
Hans-Maarten Post

Shellshocked, but extremely alive: five dancers in an abstract maelstrom that sweeps you away (Meg Stuart’s ‘VIOLET’)

Somebody was waving, as I was leaving the theatre. Waving goodbye to someone else. As I saw that stretched arm, up in the air, in the distance, I realized she had gotten to me. Once again. From now on every waving arm will probably make me think about VIOLET. For the first time in many years American choreographer Meg Stuart skips all narrative elements and crossbreedings: just five dancers and one musician on stage. For a trip you might or might not like, but one you’re not likely to forget. VIOLET premiered in Essen, earlier this month, and had its French premiere at the Festival d’Avignon.
A flash of light and there they are. Five dancers, standing just in front of a slightly curved black wall, facing the audience. At the left side of the empty stage: Brendan Dougherty, behind a laptop and a drum kit. Very slowly he rises the volume of his soundscape. And still those dancers aren’t moving. Or wait: did I just see one hand move a little bit? No. Yes. Yes I did. It looks as if these bodies are defrosting. An arm is raised. A head moves. A torso is turning slightly. But still those feet stay firmly rooted. Those legs aren’t moving. The movements become more intense. I think by myself: I’ve never known that the upper part of the body can do that many things, without having to involve the lower part.

By then the volume has become really loud. And this spaceship called VIOLET is taking off. I’m not a big fan of unnecessary decibels, as you might know by now, but this time around, I understand that a certain volume level is needed to make this trip a succesful one. And luckily enough, it never becomes really unbearable. It’s one long piece of electronic music necessary to create this feeling of a maelstrom. To create this feeling of a world outside the world as we know it. This strange universe where people aren’t moving as they should be moving, even though their movements are oh so familiar.

Bodies are bending, necks are twisting, shoulders are rotating, arms are waving, mouths are screaming. And those legs start moving to. Step by step those five dancers are moving forward. They use the rest of the space. But don’t expect them to run or to move those legs high up in the air. No: it’s as if they need to stay grounded, as in the aftermath of some nuclear disaster. Shell-shocked. This has nothing to do with moving gracefully or elegantly. But on the other hand: don’t think they’re just freaking out or improvising. You just feel that a lot of attention has been paid to all the different details. This is a tightly choreographed piece.

Don’t expect them to build a ‘classic’ group choreography either, to dance in unison. It appears as if these five people aren’t even aware of each other’s existence, but observe closely and you’ll see that certain elements are passed on. When they finally do come together, they form a beautiful ball of energy, rolling on a floor that has become an impressive rainbow.

I could tell you more, about what goes on in VIOLET, but let me stop here. Allow me just to predict that you too, you’ll be standing outside, after the performance, wondering what kind of trip you’ve just been on. VIOLET is probably the most abstract piece Meg Stuart has made in a long time. No acting, no video, no narrative elements. It means that this is a choreography that is moving forward, so to speak, along only one wavelength. (Don’t get me wrong. By that I don’t mean that it’s poor or too simple). Personally, I’m more fond of a more multi-faceted approach, as in Meg Stuart’s extraordinary Do Animals Cry or that melancholic Maybe Forever. But some will certainly fall for the radicalism of this impressive return to the world of pure movement.

08 Feb 2011
Der Mann mit dem goldenen Projektor
[ German ]
Der Standard
Helmut Ploebst

Meg Stuart, Philipp Gehmacher und Vladimir Miller mit the fault lines im TQW

Ist es noch eine verunglückte Umarmung oder schon eine gewalttätige Rangelei? Anstrengend ist sie auf jeden Fall, die Begegnung eines Mannes und einer Frau am Beginn des Stücks the fault lines von Philipp Gehmacher. Meg Stuart und Vladimir Miller, das gerade vom Tanzquartier Wien (TQW) in der Mumok Factory zu sehen war.

Sie gehen aufeinander zu und los, verharren Hand in Hand und zerren aneinander. Und sie sind nicht alleine. Da ist noch einer: ein Beobachter, der sich nicht einmischt. Einer, der sich ein Bild davon macht, was die anderen auf den Bruchlinien ihrer gegenseitigen Erforschung aufführen.

Miller verkörpert „Die Figur des Dritten“, wie sie in einem vor kurzem unter diesem Titel bei Suhrkamp erschienen Buch so eingehend wie brillant erörtert wird. Sie geistert durch die Kunst, die Psychoanalyse und die Genderstudies: als Bote, Trickster, Parasit, Rivale und Cyborg. Der Dritte macht ein Tête-à-Tête zur Ménage à trois, zum Trio infernal. In the fault lines tut er das auf ganz besondere Art.

Wie eine Spinne in ihrem Netz hockt diese Figur, umgeben von Videoprojektoren, Kamera und Kabeln in einer Ecke um Vordergrund der Bühne. Er agiert im Blickfeld des Publikums, stets mit dem Rücken zu diesem, und ist doch nicht direkt in das Drama involviert, das zwischen Stuart und Gehmacher abspielt. Der Dritte muss nicht selbst in das Bild, das die beiden abgeben, denn sein eigentlicher Partner ist genau dieses Bild. Seine Kamera übersetzt, was immer sie tun, in Projektionen. Das Publikum erlebt also ein doppeltes Stück: das Paar in seinem Live-Auftritt und in seiner Simultanuntersuchung durch die Live-Projektionen.

Miller ist der Mann mit dem goldenen Projektor. Sobald er diesen Apparat auf das Paar richtet, wird es in eine schillernde Farbaura gehüllt. Nur diese Bildmaschine greift direkt in die Dynamiken zwischen dem Mann und der Frau ein. Sie ist der Klischeegenerator, der beiden einlullt wie ein kitschiges Liebeslied.

Am Ende steht genau dieses Schillern, das Klischee der Liebe als Produkt der Bildbearbeitung. Das Drama des Paars ist längst verebbt. Wie teilnahmslos sitzen der Mann und die Frau nebeneinander, während der Parasit, Trickster und Bote sich daran macht, mit dem Bild von den beiden zu spielen, es zu gestalten und zu manipulieren. Damit ist the fault lines zu einer großartigen Ménage à trois – zwischen Performern, Bild und einem faszinierten Publikum – geworden.

26 Jul 2011
Tsunami Stuart
[ French ]
Gérard Mayen

La dernière pièce de Meg Stuart embarque danseurs et spectateurs dans l’acceptation extrême d’une immersion dans les puissances déchaînées du monde

Inouï. Un silence inouï. Peut-on parler d’un silence inouï, sorte d’oxymoron? Silence jusqu’ici non entendu. Entend-on un silence ?

Mais comment qualifier autrement ce silence des sons et des gestes, qui soudain à un moment s’empare des cinq danseurs, du musicien et des spectateurs de la pièce Violet, créée au Festival d’Avignon, signée Meg Stuart. La lumière provient alors du fond de la salle, que les spectateurs perçoivent donc dans leur dos, les interprètes sont alignés en front de plateau, dans un face-à-face accentué, suspendu, comme le constat d’un destin intégralement partagé.

On pourrait décrire ces choses-là de manière beaucoup plus analytique. Mais une force domine, qui impose de le traduire sans rien censurer du déferlement d’émotion que provoque cette pièce. Qui secoue terriblement. La grande plage de silence qu’on vient d’évoquer survient après son contraire, une montée d’une puissance inouïe qui l’a précédée, presque une heure durant. On le perçoit comme le calme insensé, irréel, qui s’abat en un clin d’œil sur les régions que viennent de dévaster un ouragan.

De Meg Stuart, on se souvient de Blessed, ce solo interprété par Francisco Camacho, qui portait les traces explicites des inondations catastrophiques de Louisiane. Devant Violet à présent, on n’a pu s’empêcher de songer au tsunami japonais. On est allé vérifier dans le dossier de presse. Il n’en est rien semble-t-il. La chorégraphe n’évoque rien d’autre qu’une conjonction organique générale avec des dynamiques du monde, dans un rapport de pure abstraction. Lequel est chez elle, du reste, bien peu habituel. Il n’empêche : Violet a quelque chose d’un tsunami.

Cette puissance tient beaucoup au grondement de la musique que Brendan Dougherty installe progressivement sur scène. Son jeu à la batterie s’accroche sur les crêtes vertigineuses d’un déchaînement progressif de forces électroniques brutes, sombres, rondes, qui s’emparent de tout, de l’espace, du mental, du physique des corps, aux limites du soutenable.
A ce propos, notons au passage un nombre exceptionnel de départs de spectateurs, mais semblant plutôt fuir ce volume sonore pour eux insupportable, que désapprouver la pièce en tant que telle. C’est dommage.

D’abord alignés en fond de scène, les cinq danseurs – trois garçons, deux filles, d’une très grande diversité de morphologies et d’allures – sont loin de reproduire en prise directe les impulsions musicales. A distance les uns les autres, à distance de la masse sonore, chacun laisse peu à peu le mouvement s’emparer de lui, comme reçu plus que donné, traduit plus qu’écrit, éprouvé plus que maîtrisé.

Cela se fait d’abord par gestes infimes, décomposés par dissociations et isolations, tenant par instant du hoquet, de la saccade, où les bras se taillent la part belle d’une prolixité rhétorique, multipliant les motifs à l’infini, sur la gamme d’un potentiel inépuisable de variations, alors même qu’il s’agit de si peu. Il y a là un triomphe de l’idée de danse. Pour qui veut bien la voir.

Jamais à l’unisson, mais agissant toujours tous en commun, ces personnes génèrent peu à peu un plan de connexions plastiques généralisées, flottant dans une indéfinition de la relation, comme dilué dans et gagné par une vibration globale de l’organicité du monde. Elles y résistent aussi, y sculptent leur inextinguible autonomie, tout autant qu’elles opposent à l’effrayante déferlante sonore une rythmicité franchement décalée, manifestement retenue. C’est sobre, pauvre, en même temps qu’incroyablement intense.

C’est un vertige d’appel du mouvement comme réalisation de tensions signifiantes du monde. Cela se communique à la physicalité active de la masse des spectateurs. Enigmatique, Violet n’en dit pas beaucoup plus qu’une résolution à accepter de se confronter aux puissances du monde, fussent-elles déchaînées. C’est une expérience rare, que conduisent des interprètes qui paraissent si frêles, faibles, et pourtant tellement présents, entièrement, rien d’autres que présents, donc en devenir-humains. La description de tout cela réclamerait des pages et des pages.

Lorsque l’ouragan s’apaise soudain, la pièce est loin de se terminer. Des sons reviendront peu à peu, infimes, à peine grattés sur les peaux de la batterie. Des gestes se recomposent aussi, comme transparents, médusés par la conscience d’une fragilité inouïe, infiniment précieux, motifs vibrants accrochés à des silhouettes tenues de s’inventer. Cette longue séquence minimaliste, extrêmement lente, pourrait désespérer bien des regards, alors qu’ici elle se reçoit comme toujours empreinte de la trace mémorielle physique de l’ouragan qui s’est produit, pas près de s’éteindre en corps et en esprits, continuant de sous-tendre l’ensemble.

Deux tableaux particulièrement intenses émaillent cette estampe. Le premier fait s’agréger les cinq danseurs dans un même grand corps allongé au sol, mêlée inextricable de membres, de bustes, de sexes, de têtes, intégralement abandonnés à une danse-contact écrasée de pression gravitaire. Seule moment d’articulation directement collective de tout le groupe, il y a là un tas, un amas, mais qui roule, obstiné à continuer d’arpenter le monde.

En contraste de cette pesanteur, la toute dernière figure est un ballet de derviches contemporains, dé sémaphores déréglés dans leur tournoiement, toute en élévation, en légèreté, en abstraction peu à peu diluée dans le bain de lumière qui s’en va. Ultime surrection des corps. Conclusion d’une pièce éprouvante mais secrètement réconciliante.

Jan 2011
The Fault Lines of Touching

SCORES N°1: touché
Krassimira Kruschkova

In the tense breathless silence, the motionless restlessness at the beginning of the installative performance fault lines by Meg Stuart, Philipp Gehmacher and Vladimir Miller, something is foreclosed and revoked at the same time – something that will have been. Fault lines: something will have happened, and the tectonic fissures between the bodies, between the media – reconstruct, remember it just because of their paradoxical emptiness. From the outset, a dispositive of the past shimmers through what could have been, will have been totally different. A scene under the banner of a farewell which will pass into the strangely melancholic restlessness of technical challenges – choreographical and medial ones. Neon lamps flash up, glittering, which paradoxically mark a kind of ramp for the white cube and simultaneously engulf the scene in laboratory light. No black box, an exhibition space as the location of this installative performance. A dance performance which turns into a kind of video installation that, however, happens frontally towards the audience. There is a curtain, too, yet it does not serve as a partition between stage and auditorium, but stretches along the one white wall of the stage area – a curtain behind which there is nothing. And nothing will stand behind the performative gestures either, they will stand for nothing – and disclose more and more nothingness, wistfully uninvolved.

We hear the room’s breathing, the whispering of Vincent Malstaf’s sound installation which will later turn into the stuttering acoustics of a film soundtrack. We see Gehmacher, Stuart and the video artist Miller (also on stage), far apart from each other at first. Abandoned. And exposed. Exposed, too, the projection equipment, the golden beamer, the golden cables. The tectonic fissures. Then, Stuart and Gehmacher will not fall into each other’s arms but rather attack each other, in a fighting embrace, violently, repeatedly, with absentminded resolve – and fleetingly, an undecidable tenderness, an inactive solicitousness will yet arise. Already under the banner of parting, on the verge of a farewell the performers, the man and the woman, will turn towards each other for evanescently brief moments only in order to immediately turn away again. The movements will pause in a still, in a picture, but not as a picture. Idiosyncratic. A thwarted expenditure which cannot be actualised in any act. A movement which would rather be none, which prefers not to. Rapt touches bordering on violence, fierce, unrestrained and at the same time casual, oblivious. Amnesia of gestures, contingency of touch.

Later, the two will remain on the floor for some time as if they were about to fall asleep, and Miller’s drawing directly on the projection area which shows a virtual double of the two bodies remaining in still will not wake them up, it just caresses their images. These drawings will not trace or continue the movements that took place, but rather continue to imagine dreamed touches. As if they were small whirlwinds and tongues of flame, proliferations in all the contingency of caresses or landscape structures, the drawings note down the fault lines of contact between chaotic structures, their contingent, maybe provisional and not retroactive traces – as a “memory of that which was not”. Stuart will briefly turn around on the floor, smile lopsidedly, tickled by the video artist’s pencil – not she herself but her image. Later Miller will leaf through the room slightly changing the projection’s position so that he virtually takes along the performers’ live body, turning it into two dimensions. The paradoxical, trembling flatness of the live bodies, that in the beginning seem to miss each other so intensively, is taken apart when they converge in reality, dissected more and more by the medial manipulation. The projections of the figures that are actually positioned near each other are separated virtually – as if the medial event were articulating something the live event is not able to formulate even if it could only happen ‘live’.
It takes place when it doesn’t. Like touch. Between the bodies, between the bodies and their images, between the singular body surfaces and their plural projection areas. In Être singulier pluriel, Jean-Luc Nancy writes, “The law of touching is separation, and even more, it is the heterogeneity of the surfaces touching each other […] insofar as the actual power of a body consists of its capacity of touching another body (or touching itself), which is nothing else but its de-finition as a body.” Thus Miller’s medial de-finition, definalisation of the bodies, his articulation, his medial touch with the live event – especially in the heterogeneity of this contact of different presentation and projection areas – will not be illustrative but strikingly illusive, in all its openness and its apparentness of illusion, which exposes itself to its own techné and thus, in a literally potential manner, turns relity into possibility. Literally exposed illusion made visible and in spite of this – or rather, just because of it – magical. The video artist who performs his apparatus on stage becomes part of it. The exposed path of the images and electronic impulses through the golden cables will paradoxically oscillate between illusion and disillusion, simultaneously present and absent, visibly illusive: real virtuality instead of virtual reality. The whir of projections will make the projected live bodies (and not only their projections) tremble. This is comparable – if in a different way – to Stuart’s Alibi and Visitors Only (2003).

A brief reminder, something like fault lines between works: Stuart’s Visitors Only begins with the vibration of the bodies with which her previous work Alibi ended. This time there are bodies clothed in transparent raincoats whose long trembling unsettles the scene’s visibility. Like trickling, vibrating raindrops the bodies in transparent coats fold the transparency of sight. The virtual veil of rain translates the scenic air into another state of aggregation. Intension instead of intention. The trembling choreography makes the room vibrate and fold: real movement that, however, virtualises real space. And when at the end of the scene the vibrating bodies jump on the spot now and then, as spring-back ball-point cartridges, it is as if the gestural tension of the sequence were critically whipping the writing utensils out of the hands of the choreography.

In fault lines, too, there is critical optioning instead of clinical representation; here, too – even if with an entirely different medial implementation, we witness a kind of virtual rainbow after the virtual veil of rain – a choreography in italics instead of boldface – as if it were only quoting the dancing body whose outline resists any presence like bristling skin, like goose bumps, as if the bodies were merely trembling quotes of themselves, put between quotation marks, as if they were not there at all. This is the strong mutual affinity between the choreographies by Stuart and Gehmacher, the author of in the absence (2003), Mountains are Mountains (2003), incubator (2004), like there’s no tomorrow (2007), to name but a few of his works. What do the choreographies of two of the most interesting protagonists of contemporary dance try to present so passionately, long after having conceptually committed themselves to the un-presentability of passions? What shakes the bodies on stage, what makes them tremble like this – searching for an Alibi for their own movement, their own being moved, for grasping their own emotion? What may still touch them when every kind of solid ground withdraws from under their feet as if they were floating – like at the end of Visitors only – over an abyss? As a place of medial ascriptions, the motivation of touching becomes increasingly harder in contemporary dance and performance practice, and it is all the more interested in the emotive fall of the body which keeps evading the idea of its dancing weightlessness, even lightheartedness. As if this practice were asking again and again where the customary oppositions of conceptual/emotional, minimalistical/affective come from, by letting these oppositions fall. Instead of rehabilitating affects or opposing emotions to concepts, it tries to dis- and reassemble the ever emotive texture of choreography especially in the course of minimalism. It tries to defigurate the illegible figurations of feeling, to deconstruct its all too blind constructions – and to persevere, knowing about its referential imponderability.

The question of the potential of touch also deals with the main rule of the scenic – visibility. This investigation of the preconditions of a medium also has to be seen politically – i.e. against the ideology of sentiment, against the slogans of a positivistic view that postulates the evidence of visibility. The scenic emotion, however, stays in the trembling, the oscillation of potentialities – it is thus never actual, never present, but potential, in marked absence. “There is no falling in love, no falling out of love”, it says in Meg Stuart’s and Benoît Lachambre’s Forgeries, love and other matters (2004). The fault lines of lacking, failing, falling: falling in love, falling out of love. “There is no dance in this place, there is no reason to stay in this place”, it says in Forgeries, love and other matters. And yet the piece closes with the words: “I’m staying here forever.”

Maybe forever is the name of Stuart’s and Gehmacher’s first joint performance created in 2007 which they continued in 2010 with fault lines – to draw further confused fault lines and lines of distortion, of touching the other, prone to fault and missing, measuring, impudent, missed. Joint artistic research, too, between the video artist Miller and the choreographer Gehmacher: in the choreographic video installations dead reckoning (2009), at arm’s length (2010) and the group piece in their name (2010). Here, too, choreography and video installation, body and images go along with each other – toppling and diving into each other, immersing and submerging. What seems to separate not only the live figures but also the various projection areas actually connects them – if they are to be connected at all. Bodies and their stories, put down by themselves but not anywhere else either, that linger at the fringe of their mirror-image without breaking the glass. “One reaches a border not by crossing it but by touching it”, Nancy writes in Corpus.

Fault lines: bodies that touch the border between each other without crossing it – that are, in fact, this border. Exposed bodies, exposed to touch, in all their immeasurability, incalculability – and vulnerability. As if they were phantom pain, a painful nothingness, completely exposed to the other. Touching each other as attention and distance. For it is necessary “to interrupt the immediacy and continuity of touch”, says Jacques Derrida in Le toucher: Jean Luc Nancy. It is this chance of possible interruption, of interrupted immediacy in all the anchorless melancholy of every gesture in fault lines that endows the scene with the optics of the optional, of openness. The camera makes the eye alert for the live event, the invisible distances within the live touches. Doubles, reflections, surfaces, layers. Bodies disrobed by themselves, bodies on withdrawal, which are, at the same time, quoting themselves, setting themselves in italics, every gesture resisting itself – and merging into the pixel-like goose bumps of Miller’s projections. Medial replays that only play the live bodies back into their real virtuality. Stills that always assert the choreographical and medial movement. What remains is the never-shown, the performative residue of absence, the performative and medial gesture of the undeliverable. Gestures that are too big and too small at the same time, marking the rest of the inexpressible and only articulating with restraint – if at all.

The reserved manner of pathos and melancholy, so typical of Gehmacher’s choreography, here deals with the incommensurability of the other with the utmost aesthetic strictness. The too much/too little of scenic gestures as a residue. The rest is silence. And the melancholic absentmindedness of these gestures that evoke the exceptional circumstances of dance, ecstatically immobile or stutteringly bespoken, existential and exhaustive. Gestures so small that they touch their absence, as if they were not even there yet. Gestures so big that they tear apart. Fault lines. The bodies of Stuart and Gehmacher will leave each other and themselves – while touching. What will remain will be their outlines. Even after the two fighting/embracing bodies separate, one of them will stay in the interrupted gesture of touch. An embrace with empty hands. And Stuart will not so much caress her partner but rather retrace the contours of his body – a line along his body, almost as if tenderly outlining a dead body on the crime scene. Nor is this gesture accidental in Maybe forever. Choreography as an epitaph, as touching the ephemeral. At some point in the fault lines HE will push her ‘corpse’, her unmoving body along in front of himself. And again SHE will caress his outlines, touch her border to him, cut out not so much the body but the touch. The peephole projection, too, with which Miller will softly spy on and sample the two bodies, inert again – entirely different, cuts out the live bodies or rather the distance of their touches in order to focus on them: however, as punctum, as a crossfade of something invisible, in the sense of Roland Barthes’ punctum of photography, the incalculably interrupting and simultaneously painful punctuation of the ephemeral that records the literal withdrawal of the figurative, as a kind of blind spot in the eye of the hurricane. In “Les morts de Roland Barthes”, on the other hand, Derrida, on the occasion of Barthes’ death, specifies the punctum of transience as “incompleteness made visible”, as “punctuated yet open interruption”.

Interruption once again, narrative spots instead of narrative plots: the peephole of projection, its spotlights virtually punctuating the live event. The virtual touch of reality punctuates, isolates, focuses, interrupts, hurts it. It, too, is a touch in the mode of I prefer not to. Like the performative violence in the beginning, when the two performers touch each other to become separated – along their opposing fault lines. When they attack each other in order to then let go of each other, to desist; when they go towards each other in order to part. Bodies parting. They turn towards each other only to turn away from each other. The live touch raves, goes up the wall, is played against the wall, in the beginning a brutal and painful touch of the two bodies literally throwing themselves at the wall, letting their embrace fail intensively – and later also cast their projection on the wall, the projection that vibratingly repaints the live figures. The foil which Vladimir puts in front of the projector like a curtain makes the projected bodies shimmer and lets them immerse in virtuality. The rainbow of movements passing into each other is virtually doubled by the lyrical rainbow of glittering colours Miller will cast on the wall. Like a “drop of sky” (Friederike Mayröcker), the touch will camber down to the other – without actually touching. And always, shortly before the bodies raving with and at each other throw themselves against the wall, his body will cushion her body’s blow. He will protect her. Too much? Lyrical film soundtrack. The performance’s making of by Miller. And time and again one will come to lie in the other’s arms. Untouched.

Near the end Gehmacher and Stuart will sit on the floor together in front of the curtain and the white wall behind which there is nothing, and draw big circles around themselves with their arms. Two embraces without object, drawn embraces, two circles intersecting. The empty intersection of an embrace. The arms are folded, but in the frontal drawing of an embrace that never happened. An entanglement of two semaphores, two clockworks ticking peculiarly instead of signalling. Miller will pull the glittering foil over the images’ projection, let the figures glimmer pixel-like, thereby transporting them somewhere else entirely, uncannily enlarging the pointillist distance between them. And once again he will virtually isolate only Stuart’s projection which now – depixelated – will seem to inhabit a parallel world. The interrupting, painful, invisible punctum of touch in the image of the finale, the parallel worlds of touch will pause – in a downright transcendental longing for each other. Meanwhile, Gehmacher will have quoted his long arms, his self-referential gesture of a singular absentee’s outward tension.
In the choreography – as a punctual temporisation and spatialisation of touches – rather the untouchable is inscribed. The untouchable in figures of touching, figures without shape. Choreography as a technique of borders. And the borders as the figures of touching. Where the choreography splits the scenic bodies and glances with its sense of rhythm and touch, no body and no gaze will have stayed intact. In the fissure of this impaired and longing seeing and feeling, optic and haptic contact with each other, contaminate without ever becoming one. The ‘touchingness’ of a scenic touch will have been its potential, its strong weakness of touching without touch; without transgressing any limits, without mingling surfaces, but rather touching the borders, affecting, tangential, contingent: in all the contingency of a contact that occurs, happens, is imparted – only in separation, only in the non-intactness of tactile experience which does not concern unimpaired subjects, which takes no immediacy as given, which aesthetically, ethically, politically opens and closes the quotation marks for “touching” – as if they were the eyelashes of an ever distant, interrupted gaze. No immediacy, uninterruptedness, continuity, symmetry. The technique of touching rather concerns the caesuras, the syncopes, the fault lines. As if our world were built on fault lines, on those subterranean fissures and crevices in deep rock strata that are supposed to be responsible for our aggressions and depressions, for our violent stills and tender distances. Fault lines – perhaps those fissures, disturbance areas, lines of distortion at which we always abide, anchorless and restrained, in our mutual inverse desires, the lines at which – only in our inconsistency, our brokenness – we can touch each other.

Agamben, Giorgio, “Bartleby o della contingenza”, in: Giorgio Agamben/Gilles Deleuze, Bartleby: La formula della creazione, Macerata 1993.
Barthes, Roland, La chambre claire: note sur la photographie, Paris 1980.
Derrida, Jacques, Le toucher: Jean Luc Nancy, Paris 2000.
Derrida, Jacques, “Les morts de Roland Barthes”, in: Poétique 47 (1981): 269–292 (republished in: Derrida, Jacques, Psyché, Paris 1987, 273–304).
Nancy, Jean-Luc, Corpus, Paris 2000.
Nancy, Jean-Luc, Être singulier pluriel, Paris 1996.

Apr 2010
Humus for the spectator

Corpus Kunstkritiek
Lieve Dierckx

the fault lines – Meg Stuart, Philipp Gehmacher and Vladimir Miller
Damaged Goods and Mumbling Fish

The fault lines premiered at Utrecht Springdance Festival 2010 two hours before its official opening. A perspicacious move, given that in the field of contemporary dance, the makers belong to the vanguard. The question circulated whether this laboratory project should have ventured to the stage at all. My answer is yes, precisely because the performance can be read as a search for a renewed relationship between audience and performance. The latter is the more interesting because a central theme in the choreographic language of both Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher is the near impossibility of human relationships.

The fault lines germinated about two years ago in Vienna, where Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher were in a research project on image, projection and corpor(e)ality together with video-artist Vladimir Miller. Their entourage considered the result sufficiently successful to bring it onto the stage as an ‘installation-performance’. That generic name is enlightening too because as far as installations go, one can safely assume a degree of activation on the audience’s side.

In Huis a/d Werf in Utrecht, the stage of is bordered with stretches of neon-light. Gehmacher and Stuart are each neutrally waiting against a wall of the stage’s space. Vladimir Miller is squatting in front of what looks like a technical battery of camera and projector, his back turned to the audience. One could state at this point already that his gaze is turned in the same direction as that of the public. To the left a curtain is hanging down from the ceiling, the kind you may find in a traditional photographer’s studio. Here it is fitted within the focus range of Miller’s camera. Somewhere there is the purring sound of a 16mm film spool. In the middle of the stage a miniature screen is set up, hardly visible from the front row of the audience space. A second screen, the size of a torso, is equally difficult to watch as it is attached at an awkward corner to the right side wall of the stage. (Later on the back wall will serve to reveal images too). For a short while it looks as if the credibility of the set-up will be at risk. But then the performance finds its rhythm in an impossible encounter of the two dancers. Without ever looking at each other they keep on bumping into each other in all kinds of pitches and tones. Aggressive, desperate or unyielding, they stubbornly keep trying to pin each other down in an endless variety of armlocks. And, true to their creed, they never get to know each other: with his hands Gehmacher draws the outline of Stuart’s body without touching her and empty-armed puts her silhouette down elsewhere in the space, out of reach of the camera’s eye.


Admittedly at first sight the fault lines looks less digestible than the official opener of the festival later on the same evening, the re-enactment of Live, the first-ever Dutch video-ballet from 1979 by choreographer Hans van Manen. Though van Manen also works with two dancers, a camera and projection there is a world of difference between the two performances. Of course the premises of contemporary dance are different from those in ballet, a continual questioning of movement as an artistic practice on an axe running from standstill to extreme virtuosity.

The movement language of Philipp Gehmacher bears no reference to any existing dance vocabulary. His stumbling, blind, introverted idiom is highly idiosyncratic, recognizable only if you have seen him in previous performances, or in Maybe Forever, an earlier cooperation with Meg Stuart. She, for that matter, is surprisingly compliant in going along with Gehmacher’s language in the fault lines.

Apart from the dance language being less legible, the task division in the fault lines also is far less self-evident than in Live. Whereas in Live the cameraman stays closely at heel to the choreographer’s needs, the fault lines sees video-artist Vladimir Miller and his camera calling the shots. The camera is in a fixed central position : it doesn’t follow the performers but registers their movement only when their skirmishes bring them right in front. The result of these recordings is in Miller’s hands: the live-stream images are edited and shown on either one of the three screens if, where and when he sees fit.
Moreover, Miller’s new perspectives on the performers’ hopeless obstinacy gradually starts to influence their actions. While releasing their images on screen, he also sets them free: the performers quieten down up to the point where a hint of tenderness infiltrates their contacts. At one point they sit down next to each other in front of the camera to watch their images on the big screen, and, even if in reality one performer’s arm does not physically touch the other’s, on screen it looks as if they are intertwined.

With his gauging frames Miller not only opens up their potential range of action but also the time space. His perspective disengages itself from the performer’s reality and tilts them into a different time/space atmosphere, into a personal or collective subconscious that encloses underlying motives for the two performers’ moves. The unveiled images on the screens serve as tools that provide the performers with new insights they don't have to search for in vain in each other anymore.
The soundscape by Vincent Malstaf underscores old and hidden energies. There is the faraway sound of a barking dog, high-pitched children’s voices or the peeping of a swing.

In the slow revealing of the images on screen, Miller shows his métier. The techniques he uses are refreshingly down-to-earth. At one point he cuts a hole in a black sheet of paper and holds it in front of a projector. By slowly bringing the paper closer to the lens, a miniscule roundel of meaningless projection on the back wall is gradually extended into an overblown image of the performers. A little later, Miller adds a nimble spectre of colours at the bottom of the image by using coloured mica paper in front of the same projector. With this simple intervention Miller creates a sophisticated metonym for new spectra. Very deft also how at the end of the performance he brings the performers back to the here and now by drawing on their projected image a curly landscape, finishing up with bold, straight lines, as many options for new directions.

This new orientation also applies to the viewer. Thirty years after Live, the stage’s perspective has moved from Euclidean, over fragmented, to new focal points. The fault lines digs for new energies between disciplines and frames, not in the least between the performance and the individual viewer. Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher dish up new proposals of activation via Miller’s interventions: away from wrestling misunderstanding (as between the performers ) or passive watching (the fixed camera or consumerist viewing). We are invited by Miller’s example to reel in the what we see on stage in order to reshape it into a richer reality. From that point of view the fault lines can be read as an activator for a vision on art as a generator of concepts. Well, let’s just drop the issue of concepts. Art as a generator, tout court. In that sense the fault lines is fit for any stage.

14 Apr 2010
In the Picking Field

Esther Boldt

Jeroen Peeters´ fundamental book on Meg Stuart’s opus

A woman is watching a man. He looks up to her, into the camera. Starts to get up from his chair. “Don't get up!” she directs him gently but decidedly. And he, whom we only see via video projects, remains sitting. Waiting for directions, stretching his legs, his whole body towards the floor, testing his leeway. The intimacy of his room gets broken again and again by the voice of Meg Stuart, who sits mirroring him in a chair in front of the screen, watching: “Please get in the right position. That's better.” But the regime of observation is thwarted by time – it is simply impossible for Rachid Ouramdane to react to Stuart, as the scenery wants to make us believe: He is not in her power. At least not in the way the solo “Private Room” maintains –a paradoxical play between the Here and Now and the pre-produced video which unhinges causalities. An impossible negotiation of the togetherness that has always taken place, of the conditions, which comprises the artistic rehearsal processes as playfully as it does daily life. Who governs whom? Which tacit agreement is there, which consensus, which pact? From where does Ouramdanes gaze into the camera cross us – the camera which not only becomes Meg Stuart’s eye but also that of the audience? The relations are immediately broken – including that with the audience as the second observer in the picture who is continuously thrown back onto these breaks.

A little later Tim Etchells, author, performer and director of the British performance group Forced Entertainment, will bring Hollywood stars into impossible situations. “Sylvester Stalone and Bruce Willis sharing a shower” he announces in his solo “Starfucker” standing next to a red bar stool, and: “Tom Hanks at the dentist.” He sends John Wayne to heaven, Cary Grant to hell. In a total of five solos which the two magnificent artists play after each other, they subvert and perforate medial surfaces and open up imaginary playgrounds in the abyss between reality and fiction. They tacitly break codes, putting up for discussion the ways of representation by telling tales touching the borders of cliché – of filial love (“Downtime” / Etchells) and love relationships (“I'm all yours” / Stuart), constantly oscillating between an impossible proximity, its presentation and its failure. Both artists’ works shimmer between acting and acting-as-if, between observation and revelation, divulgement and seduction. Double bottoms are lavishly isntalled in the five solos which Stuart and Etchells showed on occasion of the book presentation of “Are we here yet?” at PACT Zollverein in Essen, a publication about the opus of the company Damaged Goods and Meg Stuart, edited by Jeroen Peeters.

The reader is made an accomplice

For five years the Belgian dance critic, dramatic adviser and curator has accompanied Meg Stuart’s work and talked with many of her collaborators over 24 years of artistic work and 16 years with her company Damaged Goods – among them Tim Etchells, the dancer and choreographer Benoît Lachambre, the light designer Jan Maertens, the visual artist Doris Dziersk, the dancer Varinia Canto Vila, the composer Hahn Rowe, the director Stefan Pucher, the dramatic adviser and author André Lepecki as well as the set designer Anna Viebrock. The book focuses on the artistic process, as the title already hints at – a citation from “Forgeries, love and other matters”. It does not want to proclaim ultimate truths but formulate a state of work – and thus approaches to working methods. The numerous professions depicted also make it clear how interdisciplinary Stuart works, how much the visual arts, video and music influence her work.
Many of the texts are by Stuart herself, apart from excerpts from performance texts. On the title photo, a film still from “Somewhere in between” (2004), Meg Stuart turns her back on the reader between the shelves of the fund in Zurich. But even on the first cover page her murmuring voice accosts him: “It is time to act. Forget the pain. Shake vigorously. Rehearse love. Make the first move.” Thus the reader is immediately made an accomplice, a co-actor in this strangely and excitingly in-the-face book: “Enjoy your stay.” There is no list of contents, no overview, nowhere. The book is not intended to be a scientific or journalistic analysis, no classification of the artistic works according to their social or cultural context. Rather, it focuses on the artistic process; it is a many-voiced, heterogeneous notation of its development – and that is what makes “Are we here yet?” equally special and intriguing among comparable publications. In numerous citations, essays, fragments, sketches and photographies the book etches out text and material strata through which the reader may stroll at will, and settle down here or there for a while.

Its narrative is especially emphatic with regard to collaborative processes, the approximations and gaugings of the artists who had a decisive hand in the aesthetics of Damaged Goods. Andrè Lepecki, who worked with Stuart as set designer and dramatic adviser, in “Dramaturging. A quasi-objective gaze on anti-memory (1992–98)” even calls collaboration a method which entirely keeps to the common present – “the collaborative ‘method’ […] had to be absolutely contextual, site-, piece- and sometimes even section-specific.” Lepecki describes in detail how he himself struggled for his place as a collaborator, for definition and action spaces, for serving Meg Stuart’s realm of ideas and at the same time adding something to it. For the collaborators’ functions are open, as the author and curator Myriam Van Imschoot describes by way of “On the table!” (2005–09), where she took part as artistic collaborator, dramatic adviser and performer, and in each of these functions took up another viewpoint of the production.

A view from inside into the innermost

The discussion of different points of view requires flexibility and curiosity, the hardly frictionless questioning or shifting of one’s own premises which extends far into stage language. Stuart herself in her text “Meeting foreign languages” reports that she always has forced the involvement with artists of other disciplines in order to break her usual working methods and not only meet the others work but the others themselves. Collaborations thus require abandonment of the familiar to work out new starting points together, as she describes by example of “Insert Skin # 1” (1996) and her work with the composer Vincent Malstaf: “Through Vincent’s presence, transferring processes from another field into the dance was also extended to music and sound.” Musical principles made her try how to translate them into her corporeality: “How can I sample or remix fragments of my movements, states, or elements of my daily life in my body?”

Lack and desire, the play with visibility and the axes of invisibility, and the discourse on the representation of bodies strongly influence her pieces. How the “displayced bodies” came to pass whose limbs are so at odds with each other, is described in several places in the book – possible best in that part which Peeters calls its core piece in his introduction: the exercises from Stuart’s workshops, in which her body language becomes dense and precise instructions which also invite the reader to go to the dance studio, work with the exercises and “let the tasks slowly overwhelm your body”, as Peeters writes.

Not last, “Are we here yet?” is an archive, a fund and a memorabilium which catches up with and overtakes the fleetingness of dance, overwriting and inscribing it. E.g., in the fragmentary, subjective catalogue of pieces, in which Stuart has written a brief text on each of her choreographies, memories and anecdotes which rarely recur to the pieces’ content or present declarations of intent, but create a striking, nearly haptic intimacy – when she recounts how Francisco Camacho, Carlotta Lagido and herself shaved their heads before the premiere of “Disfigure Study” (1991): “An androgynous and vulnerable art package waiting to be picked up.” This book is a view from inside into the innermost. It is a picking field, a rich and idiosyncratic compendium which presents an opening-up and a divulgement equally radical as her stage works: it does not close its covers of the opus of Meg Stuart / Damaged Goods but lets differences persist, casts trails, awakens curiosity and provokes openness.

Apr 2010
The Bodies’ Desire

Goethe Institut
Dr. Gerald Siegmund

A Manual about Meg Stuart

For more than twenty years now, it has been impossible to imagine the international dance scene without American dancer and choreographer Meg Stuart. A manual about the artist, who lives in Brussels and Berlin, has now been published.

Her pieces have been fascinating audiences and critics alike. But what do members of the audience know about how a piece is created or about Meg Stuart’s way of working? Usually very little. While academic publications attempt to analyse her pieces primarily from the perspective of their reception, Belgian writer, dramaturg and curator Jeroen Peeters takes the opposite approach. In his book Are we here yet?, co-edited with Meg Stuart, he asks about the conditions of aesthetic production that lead to the creation of the work of this exceptional dancer and choreographer, who was born in New Orleans in 1965.

Peeters, who has known Meg Stuart’s work since the 1990s and who also cooperated as a dramaturg on Stuart’s major project Replacement at the Berlin Volksbühne in 2005, has compressed 50 hours of recorded interviews into texts of various lengths which highlight Meg Stuart’s creative processes. It is first and foremost Meg Stuart herself who speaks, and she has rarely given such clear information about her work as she does here. But many of her artistic companions also report on their experience of collaboration and describe Stuart’s working methods. The result is a kaleidoscopic picture of Meg Stuart’s creative work. As one reads it, the perspective is continually new and different, keeping our view of the working processes, decisions and pieces in constant motion. The fragmented, searching quality characteristic of all Meg Stuart’s works is also a feature of the book’s structure. Following the logic of fragmentation, Are we here yet? is not divided into capitals. The themes of the texts are merely grouped loosely around particular pieces or keywords, such as dramaturgy. The book is richly illustrated (graphic design: Kim Beirnaerts) and includes sketches and material from the archive of her group Damaged Goods, making it a kind of report on work in progress and providing an excellent insight into Meg Stuart’s artistic universe.


“From distortion to transformation” is how Meg Stuart describes the development of her thinking about the body. In her first full-length piece Disfigure Study, the young American dancer and choreographer created a stir in the European dance scene back in 1991. Twisted bodies dismembered by the hard cuts in stage lighting were to be seen, a silent dance of twitching bodies, as in later pieces such as No One is Watching and Splayed Mind Out, which also electrified the audience. Since the turn of the millennium, her works have become increasingly theatrical. Like theatre pieces, they also draw on language and on the visually powerful stages of Anna Viebrock, Barbara Ehnes and visual artist Doris Dziersk, in which the dancers are constantly changing their identity. In contrast to the dance theatre of a choreographer such as Pina Bausch, however, Meg Stuart has never been interested in her characters’ psychology in this process. Stuart remains a bodyworker who tries to read her characters’ memories, suppressions and injuries from their physical states. In her work, social developments are not reflected in human interaction or failed communication, but in the flesh of the bodies themselves. In Meg Stuart’s works, even the apparently most abstract gestures and postures have a story to tell, says Austrian dancer and choreographer Philipp Gehmacher, Stuart’s partner in her piece Maybe Forever, in the book.

Crossing frontiers: Meg Stuart’s method

Jeroen Peeters attempts to go some way towards explaining why that might be the case. His book goes along with the secret theory that in spite of all the pieces’ diversity, there is something resembling a consistent method underlying Meg Stuart’s unmistakable style. Thus, a list and description of many improvisation exercises that serve the choreographer as the starting point of her research form the heart of the book. In them, she makes repeated attempts to put her dancers into physical states that take them to the frontiers of what is conceivable and achievable, as in the exercise “Looking at your own body as if it were dead”. In asking them to do impossible things, they are forced to work with resistance, and this resistance creates tension. It is in precisely this calculated failure and overtaxing that something unexpectedly new and personal is created, leaving behind the safety zones of conventional dance idioms. Often, the idea is to withdraw from one’s own body after an extremely emotional situation, to view oneself like an object, become a ghost and give oneself up to the environment like a medium. Her dancers’ incredibly strong stage presence results from their absence in their own bodies. Through making her dancers strangers to themselves, Meg Stuart dramatises their bodies, and they are constantly exposed to the view of one another and the audience. Every little movement is a manifestation of this desire for contact and recognition. Thus, the body becomes a gateway for existential orientation within society, which is often registered only unconsciously in everyday life.

Improvisations such as Auf den Tisch! (2005–2009) and Crash Landing, which was staged at five different venues between 1996 and 1999, clearly show that Meg Stuart has never shunned risk. Artists of all genres, including many of Meg Stuart’s dancer colleagues who have had a major impact on the European dance scene over the last 15 years, were invited to take part in this open-ended experiment. It becomes clear that Are we here yet? is not only a beautiful documentation of Meg Stuart’s work, but also a contemporary document about what has influenced dance in many parts of Europe.

Dr Gerald Siegmund is Professor of Dance Studies at the Justus Liebig University of Giessen. He specialises in choreography and performance.

Translation: Eileen Flügel

28 May 2009
Do Animals Cry: Meg Stuart's mesmerizing performance

Utopia Parkway

‘Here we go’, the guy next to me sighed, as the lights went out. ‘Yeah, with her you never know what to expect’, his friend answered, just before the Paris’ premiere of Meg Stuart’s Do Animals Cry. It was meant to be a joke. They were most certainly referring to a performance of the American choreographer that had tried their patience. But it made me think: isn’t that a really enviable position to be in, as an artist?

Looking at a Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods-performance often feels to me like being dropped on another planet. Humans are living there too, and their behaviour resembles ours. But their life is a warped, surreal and in a strange way a much more essential version of ours.

When the lights go up on Do Animals Cry, you see a big tunnel made of wooden sticks, a pink doghouse, a table and a couple of chairs, a tiny white podium to sit on and a drum-kit. And then you notice them, the members of the family you’re going to spend your evening with, in pyjamas. Do Animals Cry is Stuart’s portrayal of that familiar and strange entity we call ‘family’. You get lots of little scenes and choreographies, dealing with everything a family can be or do.

There’s loving and caring, teasing and seducing. You see friends and lovers, important decisions are being announced, children are given some sound advice, there’s mourning and partying, the long lost son is welcomed back, the enfant terrible is being shut out, family snapshots are taken, and somewhere in between they all take the dog for a walk.

I’ve seen all of that, in Théâtre De La Ville, but at the same time I’ve felt many other things too. That’s because Meg Stuart is, to go back to the beginning, so gifted in offering us a sort of surreal summary of what we humans do. Sometimes just the beginning of a movement is enough to carry the meaning of everything that could follow. She’s good as well in slowly pulling you into her world, one where things don’t need to be explained, because you sense what they are all about. Do Animals Cry takes its time. Its slow pace adds to a dreamy atmosphere, that is enhanced by a mesmerizing, often hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Hahn Rowe.

Do Animals Cry is funny and sad, recognisable and weird. There’s bits and pieces that remind you of her previous performances. The guys next to me had left, before I could ask them what they had made of it. But Do Animals Cry proves one thing: if you are thinking that Meg Stuart’s performances can only be twisted and distant, think again. This moved me in a way I’d forgotten somebody could move me in a theatre. So yes, they were right. With Meg Stuart one never knows what to expect.

17 Nov 2009
Zum heulen schön
[ German ]
Elena Philipp

Do Animals Cry – Meg Stuarts Damaged Goods zeigt den Menschen als böses, glückliches Tier

Berlin. Im Halbdämmer lehnen sich Körper aneinander, umschlingen sich, stützen einander. Halt, nein, sie verbiegen einander; überdehnen Beine Richtung Oberkörper, drücken fremde Rücken nach hinten durch, ziehen Köpfe in den Nacken. Keuchen, Stöhnen. Lust oder Schmerz? Vermutlich beides.

Wie hier in der Eingangsszene, entwickeln Meg Stuart und ihre sechs Performer viele Szeneneinfälle für Do Animals Cry aus Doppeldeutigkeiten oder Gegensätzen. Gleichgültigkeit und Fürsorge heißen die Gegensätze in einer anderen Szene, in der Frank Willens auf den Frühstückstisch zureicht, die Beine offenbar gelähmt, der Stuhl ein unerreichbares Ziel. Lange Sekunden sehen die vier Menschen am Tisch weg oder ungerührt hin, wie Willens kriecht und keucht und kämpft. Dann steht Joris Camelin auf, hebt Willens sanft an der Hüfte an, stützt ihn mit seinem Körper und schiebt ihn auf den Stuhl. Gänsehaut.

Warum? Vielleicht, weil es Meg Stuart gelingt, in derart kurzen Handlungssequenzen zu zeigen, wie schnell Gegensätze ineinander übergehen können, wie brutal und zärtlich zugleich menschliche Beziehungen sein können und wie sie zwischen Nähe und Fremdsein oszillieren, ohne je zu einer festen, verlässlichen Form zu gerinnen.

Die Kuriosität Mensch

Die Ankündigungen zur Deutschlandpremiere von Do Animals Cry greifen zu kurz. Es ist nicht nur ein Stück über "die Schicksalsgemeinschaft Familie", sondern ein choreographisches Kuriositätenkabinett mit einem einzigen Sammlungsobjekt, dem Homo Sapiens.

In einer zweistündigen Szenenfolge beobachten wir sechs Exemplare dieser Gattung in allen denkbaren mitmenschlichen Konstellationen. Eine Handlung gibt es nicht in Do Animals Cry, die Szenen sind vielmehr motivisch strukturiert und durch Hahn Rowes Elektro-Soundtrack klanglich untermalt. Was geschieht am Frühstückstisch? Wie spielt man mit einem toten Hund? (Wahnwitzige Lösung: Man trägt ihn dem Stöckchen hinterher.) Was macht ein braves Mädchen, wenn es wild wird? (Kotomi Nishiwaki knallt den Eltern ihr Bein auf den Tisch und zerreißt ihren Strumpf, dreht dann stöhnend ihre Hüften und wirft den Strumpf wie ein benutztes Kondom in die leere Hundehütte.) Die großen Fragen werden gestellt, naiv und philosophisch: Warum müssen wir sterben? Ich weiß es nicht, tönt der Lautsprecher. Warum müssen wir schlafen? Das erkläre ich dir morgen. Do Animals Cry, können Tiere weinen? Keine Antwort.

Die Reihung von Szeneneinfällen ist mitunter anstrengend, sie ist aber auch immer wieder großartig, etwa wenn der sportlich-verspielte Frank Willens und der biegsam-lässige Adam Linder mit Blumentöpfen auf dem Kopf Ballettposen probieren und – "Whoa! Try this one" – einander die abgefahrensten Körperhaltungen vorführen. Meg Stuart und ihre Performer beherrschen das choreographische Ding: Eine Szene, ein Bewegungstrack wird unauffällig in den nächsten gemischt.

Unscharfe Relationen

Die sozialen Rollen und Beziehungen sowie die mit ihnen verbundenen Empfindungen sind nicht klar abgegrenzt, sondern scheinen verflüssigt, amorph. Ob nun Anja Müller und Frank Willens Inzestgeschwister, ein Paar oder Mutter und Sohn sind, die um Liebe ringen und einander ebenso anziehen wie abstoßen, das ist nicht erkennbar, es ist aber auch nicht wichtig: Do Animals Cry zeigt vielmehr, wie ähnlich sich etwa Eifersucht in diesen unterschiedlichen (Wahl)Verwandtschaftsbeziehungen äußert. Willens wirft sich vehement zwischen Müller und Camelin, ihr neues Objekt der Begierde, wird weggestoßen, nimmt einen neuen Anlauf. Enttäuschter Ex-Freund, eifersüchtiger Sohn oder Rivale?

Die menschlichen Ausdrucksmittel sind begrenzter als die ihnen zugeordneten Empfindungen, und weil Meg Stuart keine eindeutigen Rollen oder Figuren festlegt, assoziiert man in jeder Szene unzählige andere Figurenkonstellationen.

Sogar Motive wie sozialen Einschluss versus Ausschluss kann Stuart derart andeuten. Alexander Jenkins etwa stößt spät zur Gruppe. Er steht plötzlich oben auf dem astenden Zaungeflecht, das Doris Dziersk hinter dem Frühstückstisch und der verlassenen Hundehütte auf der Bühne platziert hat – Schutzwall, Fluchttunnel, der Bau eines großen Tieres, die Ur-Höhle. In helles Licht getaucht, hebt er die Hand zum Gruß und gleitet, die Leiter hinunterkletternd, für einen langen Moment in die Pose des gekreuzigten Christus. Anja Müller sinkt auf die Knie, die anderen recken ihm ihre Arme entgegen. Das Bild verändert sich weiter, und der verlorene Sohn oder lange abwesende Freund wird stürmisch begrüßt.

Wenn wir einander Handflächen zeigen

Der Bewegungsbildwitz wird vom Publikum fröhlich aufgenommen. Es bleibt aber nicht bei einem Einfall, sondern das Motiv 'dabei oder draußen' taucht später wieder auf. Jenkins wird, als er mit einem Bund Luftballons auftritt, begeistert der Reunion entgegen hechelnd, von den anderen fünf gnaden- und umstandslos wieder ins Off gedrängt.

Das Tier im Menschen – hier ist es ein Raubtier. Do Animals Cry zeigt aber auch das selbstvergessene, glückliche Tier-Sein, das der Mensch geerbt hat. Frank Willens und Adam Linder umrunden die Bühne wie tobende junge Hunde. Nebeneinander herlaufend, blicken sie sich gelegentlich an, drehen ihre Handflächen einander zu, im Einklang. Dann biegt Linder in den Zweiggang ab und taucht nicht wieder aus dem Tunnel auf. Hahn Rowes Sound kippt ins Hysterische: Eben noch war Willens Teil eines Rudels, nun ist er allein. Zum Heulen schön. Womit die Titelfrage beantwortet wäre: Ja, manche Tiere können weinen.

21 Aug 2008
So fühlt sich der Weltuntergang also an -und so geht es danach weiter
[ German ]
Die Welt
Irmela Kästner

Im Tanztheater BLESSED von Meg Stuart beim Sommerfestival auf Kampnagel ertrinkt das Paradies in der Sintflut

Es ist kaum zu ertragen. Der Regen, der vom Bühnenhimmel fällt. hart nicht auf, die Nasse kriecht bis in die Zuschauerreihen. Doch so unmittelbar wir den Untergang spüren, so fern erscheint das kleine Paradies, das Stück für Stück vor unseren Augen ertrinkt. Die Natur scheint sich schon längst verabschiedet, ausgesägt aus Welpappe, farblos wie ein verblasster Traum fallen Palme, Schwan und Hütte in sich zusammen. Der Mann im weißen Anzug unternimmt einen letzten Rettungsversuch. malt noch schnell ein Bild der Umgebung auf die Kartonwand.

BLESSED hat die amerikanische Choreografin Meg Stuart ihr Stück genannt, mit dem ihre Compagnie Damaged Goods beim Sommer Festival aus Kampnagel gastiert. Und mag der Titel angesichts aufkommender Assoziationen mit realen Katastrophenszenarien erst mal ironisch klingen, so wird im Laufe der Reise, die ihr Protagonist Francisco Camacho unternimmt, die Hoffnung und der Glaube sichtbar, den sie in die Regenerationskraft des Menschen und alles Menschlichen legt.

Unter der von Doris Dziersk installierten Sprinkleranlage, in der Klangcollage von Hahn Rowe kommst Stuarts universales Verständnis von Bewegung, die den passiven Zerfall und auch den Stillstand in den Rhythmus des Tanzes mit einbezieht, einmal mehr zur Geltung. Es ist eine Gratwanderung zwischen Abstraktion und Kreatürlichkeit, die Camacho bis in jede Muskelfaser zu transportieren versteht. Eine Transformation, die ihre eigene Zeitrechnung einfordert.

Wir erleben ein kleines Meisterwerk, in dem die Choreografin ihre Sprache noch einmal um ein Vielfaches verfeinert hat. Wie ferngesteuert geht Camacho anfangs aufrecht seiner Wege. Später. nackt und zitternd, ganz auf sich zurückgeworfen, verschmilzt sein Körper mit der aufgeweichten Pappe zur hybriden Skulptur. Anatomisch betrachtet schreibt sich die äußere Katastrophe ins tiefste lnnere fort.

Schuldige sind hier nicht auszumachen. Was zahlt ist der Zustand, die pure Existenz. Und so etwas wie Mitgefühl, das essenziell stets in den Arbeiten von Meg Stuart mitschwingt. Im krassen Gegensatz dazu tritt eine exotische Samba-Queen mit schillernd buntem Federschmuck auf, tanzt auf Plateau­ Schuhen über das Geschehen hinweg.

Der Matsch des Bühnenbildes, bleibt am Ende liegen. Der Mensch in seiner unendlichen Anpassungsfähigkeit erhebt sich, geht ferngesteuert weiter. Ein Kreislauf, der sich wiederholt, ein Segen, vielleicht auch ein Fluch.

02 Sep 2007
Phantomschmerz und Katharsis
[ German ]
Frank Weigand

Mit ihrem tief berührenden Stück “Maybe forever” beschließen Meg Stuart und Philipp Gehmacher das Programm von Tanz im August

Die Glut, die tief unter der Asche weiterglimmt, ist oft die schmerzhafteste und die gefährlichste. Jeder, der schon einmal das Ende einer Liebe erlebt hat, kennt den quälenden Rausch von Erinnerungen, das hartnäckige Verweilen von Gesten und Worten, von Berührungen auf der Haut – und den wahnsinnigen irrationalen Wunsch danach, die zerstörte Vertrautheit wiederhaben zu wollen – für immer. Man will sich den anderen aus dem Körper, dem Gehirn und dem Wortschatz reißen – und doch genügt ein Lufthauch, ein Geruch, ein fernes Echo eines gemeinsam gehörten Songs, um die emotionale Achterbahnfahrt wieder in Bewegung zu setzen.

Aus den schwelenden Trümmern einer längst vergangenen Beziehung haben Meg Stuart und Philipp Gehmacher einen verzweifelten Totentanz der Erinnerung geschaffen, der zum Intensivsten und Schmerzhaftesten gehört, was derzeit auf einer Bühne zu sehen ist. Maybe Forever lautet der programmatische Titel des Stückes, in dem sich die autistische Langsamkeit des Österreichers und die hypernervöse Körperdekonstruktion der amerikanischen Choreografin zu einem hochsensiblen Strudel des Phantomschmerzes vermengen, aus dem der Zuschauer nach 80 Minuten erschöpft und gereinigt wieder auftaucht, wie nach der Katharsis einer antiken Tragödie.

Dabei beginnt der Abend zunächst ganz unspektakulär. Auf einer dunklen Bühne sitzen Stuart und Gehmacher Schulter an Schulter, dem Publikum den Rücken zugewandt. Langsam rutschen die Körper voneinander weg, rollen über den Boden, finden wieder zusammen, verkeilen sich, und tasten blind und fahrig mit den Händen nacheinander. Immer nervöser wird das Spiel von Abstoßung und Nähe, bis die beiden einander in die Arme fallen, sich animalisch betasten, wieder auseinanderstreben, schließlich getrieben durch den Raum irren und dabei ziellos in der Luft nach einander greifen. Minutenlang dauert das wortlose Treiben, das von elektronischem Summen und Klicken untermalt wird, in das sich immer wieder der Nachhall weit entfernter Möwenschreie mischt.

Schon in diesem Prolog scheinen die Rollen klar verteilt: Während Stuart zwischen der tröstenden Mutter, der launischen Spielgefährtin und der ängstlichen Geliebten changiert, bleibt Gehmacher stets das zu groß geratene männliche Problemkind, das den Kopf in den Schoß seiner Partnerin legt, sie herrisch umarmt und immer wieder in störrische Embryonalposen flüchtet.

Würde “Maybe forever” an dieser Stelle enden, ließe es sich als brilliante kleine Skizze nahtlos in die Geschlechterkämpfe des deutschen Tanztheaters einordnen. Da sich die beiden Choreografen sich jedoch weniger für den ohnehin schon schwierigen Ist-Zustand einer Liebe interessieren, als für die Verheerungen, die die Erinnerung daran in den Körpern anrichtet, geht das Stück erst jetzt so richtig los. In betont lässiger Pose betritt der belgische Songwriter Niko Hafkenscheid die Bühne. Mit seinem Bärtchen, den strähnigen Haaren und der ausgeprägten Nase wirkt er wie ein Wiedergänger des amerikanischen Regisseurs Vincent Gallo, der in seinen Filmen auf bedrückende Weise Außenseiter portraitiert, die unfähig sind, über den Verlust ihrer Liebe hinweg zu kommen. Zu minimalistischen Gitarrenklängen stimmt er eine trotzige Hymne auf die Sehnsucht nach Ewigkeit an, die die beiden gescheiterten Liebenden zurück auf das Plateau holt. Meg Stuart nimmt sich ein Mikrophon und versucht, die Erinnerungsfragmente einer zerstörten Liebe verbal zu neutralisieren. Sie erzählt von kurzen Begebenheiten und beschließt jeden ihrer kleinen Monologe mit den Worten “I take this back”. Unwillkürlich macht ihr jedoch ihr Körper einen Strich durch die Rechnung. Je länger sie spricht, desto heftiger zucken ihre Arme nach oben und zur Seite, bis sie schließlich ihren Sprachfluss abbricht und sich selbst heftig umarmend in die Mitte des Raumes taumelt. An diesem Punkt kehrt auch Gehmacher auf die Bühne zurück, und die beiden fallen übereinander her wie zwei Junkies auf der Suche nach dem erlösenden Schuss.

Inmitten des Bühnenbildes von Janina Audick, das mit seinen tristen grauen Vorhängen wirkt wie ein verlassener Ballsaal am Ende der Welt, verweben die beiden Choreografen das nervöse Bewegungsvokabular der Anfangssequenz zu einem geisterhaften Pas de Deux der unbefriedigten Seelen.

Eingerahmt von Hafkenscheids Gitarrespiel und Samples, in denen so illustre Stimmen wie die des bittersüßen schwulen Songpoeten Rufus Wainwright aufscheinen, zerfallen ihre Körper in Fragmente unfreiwilliger Erinnerung. Immer wieder zeichnet sich ein Ansatz seeligen Lächelns auf den Gesichtern ab, bevor das Bewusstsein der Vergeblichkeit es wieder wegwischt. Der Zuschauer fühlt sich dabei an Bilder von innig tanzenden Alkoholikerpärchen in der Bahnhofsgaststätte erinnert, die sich noch vor wenigen Augenblicken aufs Wüsteste beschimpft haben, aber trotzdem voneinander nicht lassen können. Höhepunkt des Abends sind zwei Solos, in denen Gehmacher und Stuart monologartig die verzweifelte Befindlichkeit ihre Figuren auf den Punkt bringen. Während der Österreicher immer wieder mit emporgereckten Armen eine Geste des freudig wiedererkennenden Grußes skizziert, die sich langsam in eine resignierte Grimasse verwandelt, scheint die Amerikanerin völlig vom unkontrollierten Greifen-Wollen ihrer Gliedmaßen aus dem Gleichgewicht gebracht. In ihrer tragischen Getriebenheit und dem regressiven Bedürfnis, das Geschehene ungeschehen zu machen, bekommen die zuckenden Gestalten eine existenzielle, fast religiöse Dimension. Mit seinen ausgestreckten Armen und seinem staunenden entrückten Gesicht wirkt Gehmacher wie ein biblischer Schmerzensmann und Stuart, die seinen Kopf zärtlich an ihre Knie drückt, wie eine zerzauste Mater dolorosa.

Je länger das Stück fortschreitet, desto mehr tritt die Frage nach Liebe in den Hintergrund. In einer Welt, die immer mehr in ihre Einzelteile zerbricht, kann nur der Körperkontakt mit dem anderen noch einen kurzen Moment des Trostes schenken. Und Trost scheint auch der Ausweg aus dem existenziellen Dilemma zu sein. “I just want you to hold me tight until everything is quiet”, hallt Stuarts Stimme aus den Lautsprechern und liefert so den Schlüssel für die unerlösten Seelen aus Maybe forever. In den winzigen Momenten kindlicher Hingabe liegt das Glück – und nicht in dem egoistischen Wunsch nach Dauer.

Durch ihren radikalen Mut zur Emotionalität und die intime Vertrautheit auf der Bühne haben Philipp Gehmacher und Meg Stuart ein Meisterwerk geschaffen, das weit aus dem diesjährigen Programm von Tanz im August herausragt. Schön dass zwischen der intellektuellen Coolness eines Xavier Le Roy und klug kalkuliertem Strukturalismus à la de Keersmaeker noch Platz war für ein Werk, das weit über das choreografische Tagesgeschehen unserer Zeit hinausweist.

09 Jun 2007
Flasbacks of a lost love

De Standaard
Danielle De Regt

Awkwardness rarely becomes so tangible as in the duet 'Maybe Forever' of Meg Stuart and Philippe Gehmacher.

Philipp Gehmacher and Meg Stuart met each other little more than ten years ago during a workshop. Stuart had already had her great breakthrough with Disfigure Study and No Longer Readymade. Gehmacher still had to position himself on the map with his 'Incubator-cycle'. Since then they both marked the field of dance in a very unique way.

At first sight they don't have a lot in common. The American choreographer is something of an iconoclast, while the young Austrian stands for a movement language sprung out of distilled despair. Yet they find each other in a fascination for dislocation and disruption. That shared partiality shows up in Maybe Forever, the result of their meeting on stage.

Stuart and Gehmacher share the stage with singer and guitar-player Niko Hafkenscheid. He serves as the contemporary minstrel who expresses the tragedy of life in lyrical poetry. Picking his guitar he timidly tells of loss and longing. His songs belong to the depths of the night, when loneliness is the only companion left at the bar.

In between the songs Gehmacher and Stuart play with expectations that are never fulfilled. They slip away from each other's wavering embraces. Caresses die away before they even touch the skin. Sometimes they do take shelter in each other's arms, but the intimacy and warmth that shat should be found there, cool down before it even got the chance to heat up. They chase shadows: their own's and the other's.

Maybe Forever resembles at first sight a montage of flasbacks of a love long lost, as is used in films. They often serve as turning point in the story, or as a way to dwell on what has happened.
The pair on stage grasp similar moments of melancholy, live them or comment on them. At the same time, their musings stay aloof. All that stirs underneath remains indefinable. The same goes for the future. The loss still has to find its own place, but where exactly? In the meantime the awareness of finity grows.

All of that results in a feeling of discomfort that seeps in the whole of the performance. It's a feeling that unobtrusively creeps upon the audience, and finally conquers it, an effect both of them regularly aim at in their own creations.

Artistically, Gehmacher andStuart have put their doors wide open for each other, without losing track of their own qualities. This creation joins Stuarts spectrum of atmospheres and Gehmachers emotional rigidity in a way that enables them both to experience a new side of themselves, and to show that.

translation: Dominike Van Besien

Sep 2007
The tombstone of our desire

Lieve Dierckx

Philipp Gehmacher and Meg Stuart in Maybe forever.

Maybe forever, Meg Stuart’s and Philipp Gehmacher’s first joint-venture, is a contemporary interpretation of motionless dance that comes alive thanks to the alchemy between two kindred minds. Its themes of alienation and melancholy are ultimately woven into a harmony that touches the heart with its sheer power and vulnerability. Such is the impact that it reaffirms one’s faith in the authentic presence within a theatrical framework.

In Maybe forever, Meg Stuart and Philipp Gehmacher represent, as choreographer and dancer, the sensitivities of two generations. Meg Stuart’s 1991 debut - Disfigure Study - was a registration, an illustration, a rendering of and a comment on alienation, speed and fragmentation in an age on the run. One year later, she made a solo piece about a man reaching for his memories, in which the absence of motion articulated a new vocabulary of ‘movement’. But standing still expressed an explicit political message rather than a new perspective in her choreographic work: the man on stage was the French critic and organizer Jean-Marc Adolphe who had organized a project in Paris around immobility as a reaction against the wars in the Gulf and Bosnia.

If standing still for Meg Stuart is a political, rational or conceptual statement imposed on or added to the body, Philipp Gehmacher’s is a different kind of motionlessness. Over and over again, he comes to a halt in order to fully grasp the reality of the body in the here and now of its environment. The resulting vulnerability is devoid of social and theatrical conventions. Again and again, he makes the connection with his body and his immediate surroundings in order to create the possibility for transformation and renewal. Taking this as the nexus of the performance, Maybe Forever can be read as an expression of the urgent need for purely individual survival strategies - and also of personal responsibility - within what Peter Sloterdijk describes as the hyperkinetic project of modernity, whereby continuous and ever faster movement is both the motor and cost of admission. Whoever is caught up in this mechanism has no time for what is in front of them. Such an insurmountable present must be compensated for: wistfulness and melancholia about the past are never far away. And as chance would have it, these two states of mind form the framework of Maybe Forever.

Kinship and difference

In the impact and nature of their respective dance languages Philipp Gehmacher (Salzburg, 1975) and Meg Stuart (New Orleans,1965) just had to be kindred spirits. Far away from home both of them straightaway left their mark on the dance scene with a similarly describable idiom.
They are connected in their clear and stubborn view on the alienated body and the crippled communication that is both its cause and effect. At the same time they diverge in the way they transform their views into performance art. The differences in their approach were beautifully illustrated in the performances that each of them presented earlier this year in Kaaitheater.

In February I saw Gehmacher’s As if there’s no tomorrow, a compelling performance with three dancers in a - apart from a battery of loudspeakers - naked space in which the dysfunction of body, time, space and communication is explored.

With its vocabulary of blindly looking, reaching, fumbling, an aborted touch, hesitating, jerking, staggering, falling down on hands and knees, As if there’s no tomorrow develops a repetitive cycle of deceleration and acceleration on revolutions in time and space. Afterwards my memory labels it as ‘classic’. Classic as in timeless, universal. Gehmacher does not want to explain: ‘As a general rule I won’t have anything in my pieces that explains what I do - it should always just be it, in the moment. ... In time and space that is always something that I do - disrupting time, disrupting space - that is my way to arrive at signification and that is the formalism of my work.’ He thus points out the extended present that I identify in Maybe Forever.

Compared to Gehmacher’s cyclical, inward minimalism, Meg Stuart’s Blessed, which premiered in April, was rather reminiscent of an (excellent) baroque epic. In the cardboard set of visual artist Doris Dziersk, an ecological apocalypse evolves in five tableaux centered around a man, the dancer Francisco Camacho, who is out of synch with himself and his surroundings. Even his numbness does not keep pace with the way the world collapses around him.

His movement vocabulary evolves from stiff to overly supple, to big uncontrollable spasms of a man in a state of shock. Meanwhile his world of cardboard art (shelter, palmtree and swan) has turned into mushy pulp by means of an incessant downpour from the stage’s sky.

In its clear and linear structure, Blessed delivers an almost political message that is perfectly interlaced with the movement material, the set design, the costumes and the lighting. The outside world is emphatically present in Meg Stuart’s work, in its environmental issues and its alienation theme, as well as in the person of the artists and musicians who work with her.

Forever, maybe

Two dance generations in phases of respectively ‘cyclical inside’ and ‘linear outside’ around and along a core of alienation. Where exactly would they meet? How would they manage to be more than their sum - and find the point where one and one equals three? As by now my curiosity is overexcited I watch Maybe Forever twice in a row.

On a basso continuo of charming natural sounds, gurgling water and twittering birds at a greyish daybreak, a duet between a man and a woman sets off. He drags himself over the stage floor toward her, like a man in the desert looking for a drop of water. As she lies down next to him and holds on to him, he aggressively nails her to the floor and keeps her neck imprisoned in the hollow between his torso and elbow. When a bit later they get up, he has a second go: He blindly reaches for her arm and embraces her with stretched forearms, holding his palms upwards. Then he moves away from her to kneel and put down his gesture on the floor, as in an offering. She clings to him again, he drags her along moving away from her. Every time they lose: they never meet.

This small cycle is the start of what at first sight could be described as a parable on desire, loss and melancholy, with two ex-lovers telling their story in a succession of dance duets and solos, soliloquies and songs. The protagonists are a man (Philipp Gehmacher), a woman (Meg Stuart) and a musician (Niko Hafkensheid), the latter being a hyper-cool solitary chorist who lightens up the atmosphere by cracking the occasional joke. Accompanied by his electric guitar he comments on what is going on with his unpretentious evergreens that stick to your mind for days to come. ‘Maybe forever’, he sings, ‘this day is taking me out/and I wonder if I’m now on my powerful side/this day comes true/when my wishes all slip out’. Here he introduces the chorus: time and desire, which I, as a spectator, will carry with me for the rest of the performance.

Every aspect of the performance seems like a building brick that illustrates the tragedy of the missed meeting and the impossible present. Time and again the present has to make way for a melancholic mourning project: the desire for what is not present here and now.

Time is translated into what has passed and what could have been: love, memories and wishes.
Next to the songs, the melancholy is interlaced in each of the attributes on stage. Against the backdrop is a projection screen as high as the ceiling with dark grey curtains on either side. One image remains projected on the rhythm of the performance, in changing gradations of colour and clarity: two overblown, fluffy dandelions. When we were kids, we called them ‘blowflowers’. If you were able to blow all fluffs in one go, you could make a wish, just like candles on a birthday cake. Behind the big curtains is the space where maybe wishes come true - later the musician announces a Reward waltz and the lovers can really dance together for a while as a reward for all their unfulfilled aspirations. On the left, in front of the projection screen, is a low grey construction, a kind of estrade with two broad steps that lead to a small platform. An altar for the sacrifice rituals of desire, or a tombstone for things passed. Time will tell.
Up front are a couple of microphones for making declarations and raking up old memories. Then there is the soundscape that adds yet another layer of time to the story: ‘Shall we do our wishes at the same time, so we don’t have to listen to each other?’ we hear the woman say.


With Gehmacher’s first solo this interpretation is rearranged.
He enters and seems to hesitate. He makes a somewhat lanky step forwards and sits down on the floor with his legs in front of him and his arms alongside his body. He spreads his arms to the sides and upwards. His movements are not fluent. Every time the sequence is interrupted, he stops and comes back to start again from there. He reaches up, falls down on his knees and puts down what he
found up there in front of him here. In the meantime the woman displays herself on the steps of the tomb. He gets up, walks to the screen, stares at the image and raises his arms again. She walks up to him and imitates his movements. The audience is fascinated. I am touched to tears. How come?

Gehmacher sheds time and makes the present possible. He succeeds in involving me, his spectator, in his cryptically phrased it-moment. How does he do that? I notice two ‘techniques’. For one, there is his idiomatic repertoire of hesitating, jolting, standing still - just as many ways to give himself the time to again and again return to what is going on now. There is no need for any armour of display: there is only room for inwardness and vulnerable strength. And here the second purification of Gehmacher’s movement material shows: that which I will call (for want of a better name) his mental idiom. He shuffles with his toes pointing inward and his head slightly stooping and passes us, the highbrows in the audience, as if he were not of this world. Great spasms pass through his body, jerky movements he does not seem to be in control of. Every step forward is more like a falling forward. He gazes into nothingness. His is the vocabulary of a disabled mind, or rather, an otherwise abled mind which we associate with the kind of behaviour that won’t give in to social discipline and that has no clue of a self- conscious display of the ego.

His mode of progression is not rushed by wishes or expectations. He creates a nexus that escapes time and space. There is no other point of reference than the here and now of his body vibrating in space.
Harmony is the key to the impact of Gehmacher’s language. We may indeed not immediately associate his interrupted and jolting movements with harmony, nonetheless it is there and even to the degree of moving us. He uses standing still as a mechanism for unlocking in the way John Cage builds compositions on the basis of silence: for Cage every silence is music and isolated from the memory of similar moments. Time and again silence is the condition and genesis. A musician who is able to accept its creative power, Cage feels, is in connection with Nature’s fundamental heterogeneity. Cage may have found his inspiration in the ancient Daoist concept of wu wei, from his beloved oracle book, the I Ching. Daoism considers all phenomena as an organically connected whole in a cyclical and continuously changing process. In order to harmonize with the greater whole, wu wei (non-action or non-interference), or still wei wu (conscious non-action) is advised. Gehmacher applies the same procedure: every time again he interrupts the movement to accept what is present and every time again he establishes the individual connection with it.


Time’s ‘now’ is in Gehmacher’s body. Straightaway from his first solo this forms the core of the performance. A texture of memories and melancholy around it serves as counterpoint. Meg Stuart’s share lies in the force and vision with which she accentuates this counterpoint: she displays her body while he is his gathering himself, she clings to him while he is dragging her along. She tries to imitate his movements and finds a language to express how scary ‘now’ is. Her text solo is a string of memories that she connects with the ever recurring onset ‘Do you remember...?’ ‘OK, ... One, two...’ she says in the microphone - and stops short after a deep and violent inhalation. ‘I’m not ready!’ She jumps away from the microphone and her body is one big rejecting spasm. She returns: ‘It’s all around, my bravery is all around’. A bit later it becomes clear what kind of bravery is in order here: ‘His eyes are wide, he’s going to explode, bravery is all around’. On the rhythm of the text she goes back into time: ‘Where did they go then,then,then,then...?’.

Gehmacher arrives and sits down on the tombstone, with his back to the audience. She sits down next to him and their backs already show their differences. Hers is manifesting itself, his is contemplating. Meg Stuart’s sinewy ‘brave’ body is the sum of another (dance) history than the soft, contemplative body of Philipp Gehmacher.

The power of the performance lies in its counterpoint. It maximizes the impact of how onto the history of broken and fragmented movements and bodies, of standing still in dance, something new is added here. The new open and generative ‘now’ is highlighted by everything that is ‘not-now’: recollection and desire - the evergreens, memories, the image of the wishing flower, words from the past on the soundscape, the tombstone / altar. At the same time it becomes clear that no past exists that is not at work anymore: the most remote and minute past seems to give shape to the new connections that turn the body’s ‘now’ into a continuously renewed present that resonates in a continuously renewed space. Gehmacher enters, opens up to what is present now, integrates, repositions and continues, to time
and again repeat the whole procedure. In this way every standstill is a memory as well, every given that has passed is taken along.

In the text solo that concludes the performance, this is more or less what he says. As he is standing in front of one microphone and then moves on to the next, I hear somebody in the audience clear his throat. You didn’t expect Gehmacher to be able to talk, but his rhythm is in perfect harmony with the music on the soundscape. Ever so slowly, in a shifted time, as if reading a letter while it is being written, he says:

‘This is the moment where
I have to accept the place ... I want you to know
that I love and cherish you. You gave me my beginning’.
place I’m in.
And with these words relief is indicated.


Lepecki, André. “Still: On the Vibratile Microscopy of Dance.” ReMembering the Body. Brandstetter, Gabriele and Völckers, Hortensia (Eds). Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2000: 334-366. Lepecki, André. Exhausting Dance: Performance and the politics of movement. New York:Routledg, 2006.
Philipp Gehmacher in an interview with Martin Hargreaves in 2002, as quoted in: Hargreaves, Martin. “Een poging tot een goed-genoegrelaas over Philipp Gehmachers good/enough. Peeters, Jeroen (ed). Schaduwlichamen. Over Philipp Gehmacher en Raimund Hoghe. Shadow bodies. On Philipp Gehmacher and Raimund Hoghe. Maasmechelen: CC Maasmechelen, 2006: 9-26.
Bernard, Michel.”Danse et musicalité: Les jeux de la temporalisation corporelle”. De la création chorégraphique. Centre national de la danse, 2001.

17 Mar 2007
From rain to pulp

De Standaard
Danielle De Regt

Meg Stuart crashes illusions in her 2 new performances "It's not funny" and "Blessed".

Ignorance is a blessing, because knowledge implies complexes. And complexes lead to shame.
You would think that the person who can shamelessy display his crushed selfesteem is truly blessed. He is. But not his audience. They get bothered by vicarious shame. That is the uneasy borderline on which Meg Stuart dwells in her 2 new productions for Damaged Goods.


The other production, BLESSED, does strike one dumb. This solo for Francisco Camacho also shows that ignorance is a blessing. It protects against the nightmare, otherwise called "reality". At first nothing is the matter. Camacho strolls as a real Robinson about his island. Everything happens incredibly slowly. Time does not exist in this paradise. Untill it starts to drip. So perhaps take shelter in the cabin and wait. But it only gets worse: dripping turns into pouring. His little cardboard house, the meticulously constructed illusion, starts to collapse under the deluge.

But he does not give up his cocoon that easily. Like a hippy, the kind that hugs trees, he wriggles out of the wreckage. A few things might slip through his fingers, but that is no reason to not continue dreaming with his eyes open. Palmtrees can still be hugged, as long as they are not completely smashed to smithereens.

What makes this solo so oppressive, is the transformation that takes places for your very eyes. From delightful delusion to sheer folly. The valium for the soul has worn off, and with the rain the consciousness seeps in that the bleak surroundings cannot be denied. We see a man who clings to his sunny worldview and refuses to see that he is up to his neck in mushy mud. Obviously it is somebody elses's fault that everything rains into pulp. With paint he sprays his reproaches on the wall, but nobody yells back. He remains hollering alone in his mock paradise. Nevertheless little by little escape routes to cling to his bliss are being suggested. New clothes, new shapes, new glasses alternate quicker and quicker. A lockjaw fixes his smile into a gruesome grimace. All of those are disposable strategies that, just like his house, tree and swan, cannot stand up to the external pressure. Fortunately after rain follows sunshine. In the end he can once again stroll on, gazing at infinity, thinking of nothing. Things don't look that bright for the audience though. It is impossible to return to the time of illusions. Since they have been harshly smashed.

A distressing conclusion of a penetrating performance, that sends one dazed back into the streets.

translation Dominike Van Besien

Jan 2004
Presentational modes in dance: how the body speaks about the body

Danswetenschap in Nederland 3
Jeroen Fabius

STUART: The Exposing Body

As opposed to Humphrey and Paxton, Stuart (1965) speaks about the process of exposure, that has other presentational characteristics. In degrees of giving and showing, stillness and microscopy are conditions for personal exposure; Stuart puts the personal and bodily in public space; she sees the body as a physical narrative, pointing to intense physical experiences as well as social and cultural readings of the body.

Stillness and microscopy, conditions for personal exposure

Meg Stuart is well known for working with near still bodies, minimal movements, the exposing of personal and bodily experience is important for her. The wilful act of exposure expresses an invitation to share the personal and intimate with the public.

In an interview for the BRT Meg Stuart explains her working methods for making Disfigure Study, and No one is watching. By endless repetition she arrives at forms. The repetition of a particular movement informs her not just of the physical movement possibilities but also the sensations that accompany them. Limitation is used in her approach to come to discoveries and intensities of experiences. ‘The whole process was to do with elimination and coming to terms with the fact that there really could not be this “dancey” part. … it is really not material that is important, it is strength of idea’ (Stuart 1993, 10). It has enabled her ‘to dance with unmoved bodies’ (Husemann, 33). The bodies come to near stillness of which she says ‘It’s not frozen, it’s liminal. Liminal is when something is becoming but not quite becoming’ (in Vandenbussche in Husemann, 34). It is in this respect that Lepecki speaks about the microscopic, how Stuart and other choreographers are making the spectator look at minute movement in the body, vibrations rather than movement (Lepecki 2000).

Her interest in stillness is expressed in the way she speaks about time. She speaks about ‘condensing time’ (Husemann, 60), that time can be stretched or shortened. In another context she speaks about the creation of ‘over-time’, by slowing down the actions of the dancers, the spectator is given more time to see. ‘Experience of over-time. You see beyond the first and then you are forced to see more in multiplicity, more than form, image, more than one relationship. You start to have association beyond’ (in Vandenbussche in Husemann, 61). For No one is watching one of the interests was ‘the moment in between’, when nothing happens, private, unnoticed moments. She is not looking for linear narratives, but rather associative readings, and time that allows for seeing different possible readings of an event

For the performer this approach has consequences for the performance attitude. She is looking for a combination of openness, honesty and awareness and clarity of performance: ‘When the work is good it is meticulously clear - attention - quick shifts, there is honesty, awareness. You are being aware that you are being watched ( ) I don’t think you can be casual - intensity and passion has to come out’ (Stuart 1993, 7). She expresses a wish to break down the barrier between public and performer, and the expectations of showing off in front of an audience (Stuart 1993, 7). One way of doing that is by looking at the qualities of performing itself, the act of exposing oneself. ’In the material I am working on now … I am just wearing underwear … I am exposed. I want to go that far, into the embarrassment and the vulnerability and yet just be clear. I know the audience is present watching me. I ask myself what it is that I expect of myself and what it is that the audience expects of me….. I think it is about the exposure of personal experience’ (Stuart 1993,11). Stuart looks for tension between the dancer as object of attention and performing subject, in command of the performance. The sense of detail is enhanced by the use of extended time, slow actions that allow the public full view into the individual performer’s actions. It also increases the tension between the body’s visual aspects, of the posing and the intimacy of the live performance in front of the audience. The dancer is in command but at the same time allows us a more than usual view of his or her body in positions that are not everyday and often uncomfortable (see also Laermans 1995, and Lepecki 2000, 362).

The personal and bodily in public space

As in Paxton’s work, there is no more projected body, but material that is generated by the dancer himself. The body of the dancer can be seen as a ‘ready made’ object for a choreographer to work with, especially when personal traits of the dancers become material for the creation of a work. ‘For me, it is interesting how to work with particular people, how to bring out their personal movement, and to connect them to a part of me, to what is on my mind’ (Stuart 1993, 10). ‘Bodily characteristics tell about our lives’ (Alibi). Indeed, one of her pieces does honour Duchamp, adding a next step at the same time, it is entitled No more ready made. There is an explicit continuity between the outside world and the world of art. Her works are often set in locations, or presented as installations. There are no more separations between the personal and the public, the public is made up of the personal, and the personal is situated in the public realm.

Stuart’s motivations for seeking personal exposure in public space also have to do with the neglect of the bodily in contemporary society: ‘I have the impression we are becoming increasingly alienated from our body. At a time when virtual reality is increasing, the sensory basis of life is crumbling. Seen in that light, sweating bodies or two people crawling around on the ground touching each other is more than enough to shock the public. Simply because it’s so physical and - more than in film - tangibly present. Dance, by its very nature, is an exposure of the body, and this is why theatre, as one of the few places where people collectively experience a physical event, can only become more extreme’ (van Imschoot 1996, 24).

She allows space for a multiplicity of readings of her work, and does not aim to control or project a particular reading. But the generating of the images she creates stems from particular physical exercises. This can lead to misunderstandings about how the work should be read, as with Disfigure Study: She said in an interview that the piece was about AIDS, but in reality she never tried to make a piece about AIDS. The dance crossed over into that area, she says, from a physical problem of isolating body parts. It became a narrative that dealt with issues that were around in contemporary society (Stuart 1993, 6). To her critics, this created some confusion in the reception of this work.

Physical narrative

Stuart can be seen as of a later generation, who appreciates and has been influenced by Paxton’s generation, but also moves on to new questions. ‘I also greatly admired and admire Steve Paxton. But I began to wonder what would happen if you didn’t rush over to catch your partner when he fell. What if the flow of the movements were broken, if the contact became problematic?’ (van Imschoot 1996, 26). Where the rebellion of the Judson Church generation against expressionist dance led to the eradication of narrative from dance making, Stuart readdresses narrative possibilities, at the same time departing from the radical movement research that was developed in the previous era.

The body has become a central concern in her work. ‘So I always start from the body. But I put it into situations that imply a problem, that squeeze and constrict, that I investigate for their potential as physical narrative’ (van Imschoot 1996, 26). She calls this ‘asking questions in action’, how, by putting the body in impossible situations, the narrative possibility makes the work stronger. She explains how in a solo she starts out with her own figure and the comments on it, and develops positions, as if she is ‘trying to rescue my body’ (Stuart 1993, 9). The way of working has to do with setting up situations that will generate physical narrative from the experience of moving. Like Paxton, Stuart too is looking for tasks to make the body tell, ‘it has to come from a movement, an image will hit me, stimulate as I am dancing’ (Stuart 1993, 5), and not illustrate, to get beyond self-consciousness. ‘There is always this task, this intention, this ‘have to’ and then the body moves…you just do. Somehow there is this self-consciousness that is removed from the performer in the ideal case’ (Stuart 1998, 291). She is looking for uncontrolled, or involuntary, rather than well-co-ordinated movement. ‘I am fascinated by involuntary movements and what I call “physical states” or “emotional states” in the body. For me it is related to the question what exactly can be described as dance’ (Stuart 1998). Indeed, maybe this is what leads her into making dance works that are criticised for being too static (Lepecki 2000). For Stuart the basis lies in the physical, the narrative is not something that she determines beforehand, it evolves out of the physical experience, the process of asking questions in action. Her approach can be described by combining Elisabeth Grosz’ concepts of “inside out”, where Stuart is looking for intense physical states, and “outside in”, by allowing the spectator to read all kinds of ways in which the body is inscribed by social and cultural contexts (Grosz 1997).

Stuart feels there is a neglect in contemporary society of attention to the body. She works with stillness, as a form of microscopy that creates the right conditions for personal exposure. She puts the personal and bodily in public space. The body is not an object but she looks at the body as a physical narrative, always loaded with meaning, that can be found in the act of wilfully exposing oneself to the public gaze.

Excerpt from the article: Presentational modes in dance: how the body speaks about the body
Ways of presenting the dancing body in the work of Steve Paxton and Meg Stuart

Apr 2003
Meg Stuart: Ein Hyperporträt
[ German ]
Zeitschrift Schauspielhaus Zürich
Jeroen Peeters

Ich lernte die Arbeit von Meg Stuart und Damaged Goods zuerst wahrscheinlich im Herbst 1995 kennen. Es handelte sich um eine Vorstellung von No One is Watching im Stadttheater Löwen. Der Titel legt nahe, daß Stuart und die anderen Interpreten nicht sahen, daß ich im Saal saß, beziehungsweise sie taten zumindest so, als ob sie mich nicht gesehen hätten. Ich persönlich kann mich beim besten Willen nicht an das Stück erinnern, vielleicht schaute auch ich, trotz meiner Anwesenheit im Saal, nicht zu. Eine etwas seltsame verpaßte Gelegenheit, mit unvermuteten theatralischen Dimensionen, über deren Bedeutung ich mir nie Gedanken gemacht habe. Gab es Zeugen?

An meine erste Begegnung mit Meg Stuart erinnere ich mich hingegen sehr wohl. Anläßlich von Highway 101 traf ich sie zu einem Interview in den Studios des Brüsseler Kaaitheaters. Wir zogen uns in eine Ecke der Büros im ersten Stock zurück, weil das übrige Gebäude fast vollständig von Darstellern und Technikern vereinnahmt worden war, die mit der Vorbereitung der Vorstellung sehr beschäftigt waren. Die Ecke war nicht ganz so ruhig, wie wir gehofft hatten, rauschend drang von draußen Lärm in den Raum. Überdies trennte eine Glaswand die Büroräume vom übrigen Gebäude. Passanten konnten ins Büro schauen. Ich weiß nicht, ob wir tatsächlich betrachtet wurden. Auf jeden Fall war das Interview gewiß eine Performance. Eine Choreographin, die sich als Choreographin ausgibt, die über ihre Arbeit spricht. Ein Journalist, der seine Rolle als Interviewer und Tanzkritiker spielt. So vertraut, alltäglich und menschlich es auch sein mag, in den Augen anderer zu leben, diese Performance entging mir ebenfalls.

Bei einem Künstlertreffen zum Thema The Terminal Spectactor gab Meg Stuart im August 2001 eine Lesung-Performance. Sie erzählte Anekdoten, Vorfälle am Rande ihrer Vorstellungen, Geschichten über ihr Verhältnis zu den Zuschauern. No One is Watching bezog sich demzufolge offensichtlich auf Stuarts Fantasien als Kind: Zusammen mit ihren Freunden und ihrer Familie spielte sie ständig in einem Film, der in einem Saal ohne Zuschauer vorgeführt wurde. Sie wäre liebend gerne aus dem Film geflohen, um ihn sich anschauen zu können. Gleichzeitig wurde sie von ihrer Mutter in genau den Augenblicken, in denen sie vor sich hinträumte, ermahnt, aufmerksamer und präsenter zu sein. Daraufhin übte Stuart, wie sie im Film besser spielen konnte. Das alles wuchs sich zu einer hyperbolischen Alltäglichkeit aus. Ihre gespielte Anwesenheit konnte nie deutlich genug sein. Auch dann versuchte sie noch immer zu fliehen, um sie gleichzeitig betrachten zu können.

Das zwingende, wenn auch unmögliche Verlangen, sich selbst zu beobachten, bewirkt im Werk von Meg Stuart und Damaged Goods eine Art von Hyperrealismus mit zwei parallel laufenden Stilfiguren, die sich manchmal auch miteinander verknüpfen. Bei der ersten handelt es sich um die bereits erwähnte hyperbolische Alltäglichkeit, eine Art von Überreaktion, um sich nachdrücklich als ein Bild zu verwirklichen, ein imaginäres Ich im Film vom Leben. Bei der zweiten handelt es sich um eine übertriebene Verwendung von Medien, die die Rolle einer Prothese des eigenen Blicks spielen: Zum Beispiel kann eine Glaswand oder eine Überwachungskamera an die Stelle eines Betrachters treten. Auf diese Weise kann der Darsteller plötzlich in mehreren Medien gleichzeitig anwesend sein, sogar in mehreren Räumen, in mehreren technologischen Perspektiven. Das Ich wird allgegenwärtig, wodurch auch die Fiktion, daß es sich selbst beobachten kann, explodiert.

Kein Weg führt an all diesen fremden Blicken vorbei. In ihrem Solostück I'm all yours (2001) erzählt Stuart mit leicht theatralischer Ironie, fast so als würde sie verhört, über sich selbst. Allerhand Gedanken, die ihr gerade einfallen, werden als unzusammenhängende Textfragmente mitgeteilt, zum Beispiel „This shirt is second hand“ oder „I‘ve only been raped once.“ Fast achtlos liefert sie sich dem Publikum aus, sie versucht, alle auf sie gerichteten Blicke mit Worten abzuwehren. Sie spielt mit den Blicken der anderen, sie spielt mit den Fantasien, die ihre Blicke entfachen, sie spielt sich selbst, bis sie allmählich in Hunderte von Rollen zerfällt, in denen sie sich verirrt.

Jedesmal wenn ich Meg Stuart treffe, fällt mir ihre Unrast auf. Sie kann keinen Augenblick stillsitzen. Ihr Körper will sich bewegen, hat hyperkinetische Neigungen. Auf der Bühne verdichtet sich dieser Bewegungsdrang zu choreographischen Figuren. Er taucht dort auch in heftigerer, vergrößerter Form auf. Die Körper von Meg Stuart und Damaged Goods platzen vor lauter Energie. Ungemein physisch und ungebremst bricht sie hervor. Die Körper bewerkstelligen manchmal sogar Exzesse, die man nur schwer als theatralisch bezeichnen kann; ich denke in diesem Zusammenhang an die Sport- und Kampfszenen in ALIBI (2001).

Hyperrealismus. Hyperbolisch. Hyperkinese. Ziemlich unbewußt hat sich das Präfix „hyper-“ in meinen Gedankengang eingeschlichen. Vielleicht ist das unvermeidlich, wenn man über Werke schreibt, die ständig die Grenzen des Möglichen sprengen, um auf die Manien aufmerksam zu machen, mit denen Menschen versuchen, ihren Körper und Geist zu kontrollieren. Ich schaue im Niederländischen Universalwörterbuch Van Dale nach. Das Wort besteht auch als Substantiv: „hyper [griech. hupér (jenseits einer bestimmten Grenze), ~ lat. super], 1. spannungsreicher Zustand mit viel positiver (kreativer) Energie, aber auch mit viel Stress: viele Werbefachleute sind ständig hyper; 2. besonders spektakuläre, mitreißende Werbung (die eine euphorische Begeisterung für ein Produkt bewirkt).“

Beide Begriffsumschreibungen treffen zu. Im Studio, wo während einer langen Periode sehr intensiv gearbeitet wird, bemerkte ich sowohl positive Energie als auch Stress. Die spektakuläre, mitreißende Reklame erinnert mich an ein Gespräch, das ich einmal mit Stuart aufgenommen habe. Wir redeten über die Transformation und über „morphing“. Stuart definierte die „Geschwindigkeit“ des Mediums Tanz als Möglichkeit, innerhalb kürzester Zeit ganz unterschiedliche Bilder und Erfahrungen miteinander zu kombinieren. Sie sagte: „Das ist etwas anderes als butoh, wo man sich zum Beispiel einbildet, ein Felsen zu sein. Es handelt sich viel eher um den Wunsch, ein Bild zu sein, und andererseits auch wieder kein Bild zu sein, so etwas wie ein billboard.“ Ihre Auffassungen über Identität widerspiegeln das: „Ich betrachte mich nicht mehr als ein bestimmtes Wesen. Ich schneide Teile meiner Identität aus ihrem Kontext.“

Dieses Spiel mit der Identität und der Manipulation des Ichs kommt deutlich im reinen Tanzstück soft wear (2001) zum Ausdruck. In diesem Solo verändert sich Stuarts Körpersprache ständig: Ein vertrautes Antlitz verformt sich zu einer obszönen Grimasse, ein seltsames Bild, das auf die Haut geklebt zu sein scheint und plötzlich eine immense Distanz zum Zuschauer bewirkt. Und dann verändert sich das Bild weiter, als sei es in einen Strudel geraten, als ob die ganze Welt daran zerre. Ständig wird der tanzende Körper von seiner Umgebung, von einer explosiven, nicht zu zähmenden Wirklichkeit angesprochen oder genauer gesagt angefaßt. Hyperästhesie, Überempfindlichkeit. Ein tragischer Körper, der nie schnell genug tanzen kann, um zurückzublicken, während er genau in diesem Rückblick lebt.

Als Interviewpartner kann Meg Stuart sehr schwierig sein. Reden fällt ihr nicht leicht. Während ihr Geist in solchen Augenblick auf Hochtouren arbeitet und deutlich sichtbar Gedanken produziert, kann sie die nur mühsam in Worte umsetzen. Im Studio entsteht bei Improvisationen eine Flut von Ideen, Bildern und Material, die Besprechungen während der Pausen sind jedoch eher kurz, weil die Worte fehlen. Dabei ist jede Entscheidung, die Stuart fällt, besonders zutreffend. Ich stelle mir manchmal die Frage, ob sie in Bewegungen oder in Bildern denkt?

Ich besuche eine Probe von Visitors Only (2003) und stelle fest, wie stark wir uns alles in visuellen Begriffen vorstellen. Arbeitet das Gehirn wirklich auf diese Weise? Der Literatur, die im Studio herumliegt, entnehme ich, daß neurochemische Impulse die Wahrnehmungen im Gehirn als ein Bündel kodierter Nervenverbindungen speichern. Die Akkumulation von Erfahrungen verstärkt diese Verbindungen, überflüssige Informationen werden systematisch vergessen. Darüberhinaus stellt sich heraus, daß Perzeption, Halluzination und Fantasie eine vergleichbare Struktur aufweisen, lediglich am Kontext, in dem sie auftauchen, läßt sich ihr Stellenwert ablesen. Selbst dann sind Sprache oder Bilder nicht unbedingt eine adäquate Übersetzung dieser Beziehung, die unmöglich beobachtet werden kann. Hypermnesie heißt eine abnormale Steigerung des Gedächtnisses. Bewirkt das eine übertriebene Tätigkeit des Gehirns, ein Ertrinken in der eigenen Vorstellungswelt, die so sehr überläuft, daß sich die Hierarchie aller gespeicherten Erinnerungen unabhängig von ihrer Herkunft auflöst?

Wie dem auch sei, diese Metapher umschreibt hervorragend den Zustand, in dem sich das Studio nach fast vier Monaten künstlerischer Erkundungen befindet. Die zahllosen, aufgestapelten Bücher, Videokassetten, Fotos, Internetausdrucke und allerhand Krimskrams sind eindrucksvoll. Genau dieses anscheinend maßlose Chaos ist typisch für die Arbeitsweise von Meg Stuart und Damaged Goods: Ein Zeitungsfoto, ein Horrorfilm der Serie B, eine wissenschaftliche Abhandlung, eine anthropologische Dokumentation, eine Meditationsstunde mit einem Schamanen, ein Poster eines Filmstars...: Zwischen den unterschiedlichsten Quellen bestehen Bezüge, die einem Hypertext gleichen oder einer Reihe zufälliger und dennoch vielsagender Schlaufen. Auf diese Weise entstehen während des Arbeitsprozesses zusätzliche Mengen Ideen und Material: In den Köpfen und in den Körpern der Darsteller und der anderen Mitarbeiter, im Probenstudio, überall entspinnen sich mögliche Szenarios, mögliche Welten. Der Hypertext verzweigt sich schließlich weiter auf der Bühne und vor allem in den Blicken und Gedanken der Zuschauer. Als grilliges und explosives Assoziationsfeld revoltiert er gegen unsere säuberlich geordneten Gedanken und Gewohnheiten. Wer schaut sich das an?

Während ich meinen Text nachlese, kommt aus dem Radio Björks Hyper-Ballad. Eine weitere Schlaufe:

We live on a mountain
Right at the top
There’s a beautiful view
From the top of the mountain
Every morning I walk towards the edge
And throw little things off
Car-parts, bottles and cutlery
Or whatever I find lying around

It’s become a habit
A way
To start the day

I go through all this
Before you wake up
So I can feel happier
To be safe up here with you

It’s early in the morning
No-one is awake
I’m back at my cliff
Still throwing things off
I listen to the sounds they make
On their way down
I follow with my eyes ‘til they crash
Imagine what my body would sound like
Slamming against those rocks

When it lands
Will my eyes
Be closed or open?

Deutsch von Sven Bettinger

10 Dec 2002
beau dommage
[ French ]
Les Inrockuptibles
Philippe Noisette

Dix and après des débuts ravageurs, la chorégraphe américaine Meg Stuart poursuit son œuvre nomade. A coups d’envie et de mise en danger.

Meg Stuart se fout sans doute de la pose de prodige qui lui irait si bien. Née en 1965 à La Nouvelle-Orléans, elle file étudier à la New York University où elle obtient un BFA de danse, travaillant les techniques du « release » et du « contact improvisation » qui firent les riches heures de la post modern dance US ; et assiste le chorégraphe Randy Warshaw pour finir par signer de brèves études consacrées au corps , à l’origine de Disfigure Study crée en 1991 au Festival Klapstuk de Louvain,
Même ci, depuis, Meg Stuart m’a pas complètement déserté le paysage, un rien sinistré, de la dans américaine, c’est en Europe qu’elle a arrimé le chapiteau de firtune de sa compagnie, Damaged Goods, à l’intitulé d’une rare justesse. Car ses « Bien endommagés », elle n’a cessé de les chérir entre Bruxelles, ville en travaux perpétuels, et Zurich, bourgeoise qui aime se faire peur avec un Marthaler ou une Stuart, au risque de laisser ses théâtres imploser sous les applaudissements transis.

Dans cette infortune, la chorégraphe a entrainé des plasticiens comme Ann Hamilton, Gary Hill, Bruce Mau, des auteurs comme Stephan Pucher ou Tim Etchells. Et même Mikhail Baryshnikov, monstre sacré du ballet classique, passé avec larmes et bagages au contemporain, lui commandera Remote pour son White Oak Dance Project. Une activité intense, à l’image des flux continus qui irriguent une nouvelle génération de créateurs actuels à géométrie variable et géographie indécise. Crash Landing, en 1997, se présentait comme un forum d’improvisations pour danseurs, musiciens, créateurs sonores et cinéastes, Highway 101, quelque temps plus tard, épousait la forme des lieux qui l’accueillaient. Avec toujours cette mise en danger, forme d’intranquilité revendique sans manières par Meg Stuart. S’engager, pour elle, c’est aussi diriger des ateliers de composition et d’improvisation. Une façon de fuir le système de production actuel qui, à coups de subventions trop chères payées en retour, prend certains à la gorge. Stuart aime évoquer la figure du peintre qui ne crée pas dans le besoin, mais dans l’envie.

La jeune femme s’est remise au travail quelque part entre la Belgique et la Suisse : projet à la limite d’identités fluctuantes, réel et hallucination mêlés. Un prolongement d’Alibi, pièce fragmentée qui laissa plus d’un fan de la première heure désorienté. Comme si l’Américaine, par grands vents, refusait de nous tendre sa boussole mentale. En attendant cette nouvelle proposition radicale, Meg Stuart réanime Disfigure Study, son premier opus, à la demande d’Alain Platel, qui osa l’an passé un festival de reprises.

Elle est là, assise par hasard à nos cotés dans la salle du Mousonturm de Francfort, le souffle court, la jambe folle, une agitation extrême : à l’origine, Meg Stuart était sur scène. Ce soir, elle est spectatrice, face à ce miroir déformant. Dés lés premières minutes, on retrouve ce clair-obscur qui baigne Disfigure Study : des jambes puis un corps qui se dévoilent, un baiser furtif, un menton et une épaule en duo.

Le chorégraphe explose les codes de nos chairs et, avec eux, le mouvement mis en scène : de cette virtuosité intérieure – les trois interprètes Simone Aughterlony, Joséphine Evrard et Michael Rüegg sont exceptionnels -, Meg Stuart sait tirer l’essentiel. Et interroge l’autre, l’absent, la mort. Mais encore : qu’est-ce qu’un corps qui tombe, qui dérape, qui s’abandonne, si ce n’est la danse de notre quotidien, ces petits rien qui nous maintiennent en vie jour après jour.

Sous forme de solos, duos et parfois trios, Disfigure Study devient une toile vivante jusqu’à ce trait de génie inspiré d’un autoportrait de Francis Bacon : le modèle rendu à sa juste dimension, vivant ou presque.

Meg Stuart peut également compter sur les lumières au rayon près de Randy Warshow – hommage du maître à l’élève à moins qu’il ne s’agisse d’un passage de témoin… - et sur la musique live d’une rare intelligence de Hahn Rowe pour transcender la matière chorégraphique qu’elle porte en elle. Lorsque le garçon se détache du fond de scène, dépassant les deux filles à terre, ombres en mouvement, pour venir au-devant de nous, son pas semble résonner jusqu’au plus profond de chacun.

Disfigure Study fonctionne alors comme un champ de mines dont chaque déflagration provoquée par les danseurs nous ébranle. Et les applaudissements sourds qui saluent enfin les danseurs soulagent aussi les spectateurs mentalement et physiquement, parties prenantes de ces études majeures. Au final, Meg Stuart, voisine d’un soir, a poussé un petit cri, pleuré peut-être. Et filé par une porte dérobée. On n’a pas eu le temps de lui dire qu’on l’aimait depuis déjà dix ans…

14 Dec 2002
Le corps dénaturé
[ French ]
Elisabeth Lebovivi

Reprise au Theatre de la Bastille de la première chorégraphie de Meg Stuart

Deux jambes surgissent, seules, suspendues dans l’obscurité ; puis deux pieds aussi, qui se cherchent et s’embêtent. Sous les pieds, la lumière nimbe alors un autre corps qui se soulève pour atteindre les jambes, se tend et retombe, plusieurs fois. Telles sont les premières images de Disfigure Study, œuvre formidable et enthousiasmante estampillée 1991 de Meg Stuart. Ce fut la pièce inaugurale en Europe de cette chorégraphe alors inconnue, qui a formé à Bruxelles en 1994 sa compagnie, Damaged Goods (« marchandises avariées).

Meg Stuart ne danse plus dans Disfigure Study (traduction littérale : "étude en dé-figure"). Mais compose avec trois fulgurants danseurs, Simone Aughterlony, Joséphine Evrard et Michael Rüegg, une heure d’insistés jamais relâchées, à l’instar du faisceau lumineux qui cadre les corps, laissant le rest du plateau dans la nuit. Les danseurs sont seuls ou à deux. Les mouvements abstraits de toute psychologie évoquent cependant des significations concrètes : la défiguration est l’une des questions plastiques du XXe siècle.

Parfois, les danseurs tournent autour de leur corps, souvent ils composent, avec le relâchement ou avec la fuite de l’autre, un précis de disjonctions, de hachures et de fragmentations, qui atteint même leur visage. Et si, dans les tableaux de Francis Bacon, le corps s’échappe par la bouche qui crie, c’est ici le poing d’un danseur qui vient fermer cette bouche, comme pour en arrêter la disparition.

05 Aug 1995
Arts on the edge of moving

André Lepecki

“Arts degenerates as it approaches the condition of theater”

The moment performance and dance enter the realm of the visual arts, art becomes invaded by disappearance. It can start to comment on memory, amnesia and historicity. Hence, by acknowledging its perennial nature, and the perennial nature of living, the visual arts as a whole must let themselves become “degenerated” (to use Fried’s expression) by performance’s essence - the one of being always already vanishing. Like Mapplethorpe’s self-portraits; like Joseph Beuys’ deteriorating objects covered with fat or fur, painted in blood; like the sad repetitive machines of Rebecca Horn; or like Iana Sterbac’s “Meat Dress” decaying in some museum.

So, the interesting question to ask is what lies behind this need for a certain kind of “degeneration” in the visual arts, a degeneration seen as properly theatrical ? I would suggest that this “staging” in the visual, this call for the performative in art, emerges precisely (and not as paradoxically as it may sound first), as a political need to underline the political implications of art’s vanishing nature. Arts should poke our lazy eyes, trained to be blind, it should gesture towards the absent in the portrayed, that which is left out, in between. Art should initiate a certain form of movement; it should be inhabited by movement and by its own death.

Since the first presentations of Disfigure Study (1991) in Europe, dance critics have been unanimous in associating the work of Meg Stuart with that of visual artists. Francis Bacon was the main reference for this work. In No Longer Readymade (1993) , the ironic references to Duchamp, and somehow to Rauchenberg’s found-objects were emphasized in an essay by Rudi Laermans. The work of Meg Stuart then moved on to a more close relationship with the world of the visual arts in 1994, with her first collaboration with a visual artist in 1994, with her first collaboration with a visual artist in the production Swallow My Yellow Smile for the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Still in 1994, she created a dance installation for the project This is the Show and the Show is Many Things, curated by Bart Debaere at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Gent, Belgium. In 1995, Meg Stuart continued this approach between the dance and the visual arts with No One is Watching with set design and objects by visual artist Lawrence Carroll.

In 1994 Meg Stuart named her company Damaged Goods. In which ways Stuart’s “damaged” comments on Fried’s “degenerated” art ?

Meg Stuart’s continuous studies in the approach of the dance to the condition of the visual arts constitute the prolongation of her choreographic of her choreographic concerns on two fundamental areas of post-modern art : the performative implications of a rhetoric of the pose and the political implications of an aesthetics of defacement. In both, Meg Stuart emphasizes the choreographic possibilities and the ethical consequences of tracing and of the inscription of history onto the body of choreography. In other words, of how choreography can approach the problem of memory as movement. This ongoing research is truly challenging and important in the scenario of contemporary performing and visual arts. Its implications on a politics of the gaze are visible by the inscription of time in Meg Stuart’s carefully built and precise movements, and by her invocation of the audience in her work. Meg Stuart’s choreographies continuously poke our lazy eyes, trained to a careful, hygienic blindness.

I believe these still non-existent spaces for being that dance performs, are those explored and inhabited by Meg Stuart’s choreographic works, where, as she says, “Life happens in between”. The space-in-between is but that cognitive gap inhabited by gestures that can exist only as a trace; it is the space of difference, and of memory. It is in this sense that Meg Stuart’s work is unique - it is not just another well crafted form of dance-theater, but rather a most radical form of choreographing. One critic wrote on the work of Meg Stuart that her “choreographic skill lies in the love for detail and in the victory over time”. This hyperbolic inscription of time in the choreographic material and this extreme attention that Meg Stuart pays to the most minimal gesture, attitude, and posture is but her claim of the highly choreographic essence of the rhetoric of the pose. Thus Meg Stuart creates her time. A time as radical as touching what will no longer be there.

The unanimous critical remark that the work of Meg Stuart is highly related and informed by the visual arts can only happen in a historical context where the visual arts themselves have been already “damaged” by the power of the theatrical. If Meg Stuart’s work approaches the work of the visual artist it is because art had already entered the realm of performance, of historicity, of time passing, of the power of the ephemeral. To the question is her work still dance then ? My answer is - it is only dance, and cannot be anything else.

07 Mar 1992
Sensual beauty of Stuart’s dancing is moving highlight

The Scotsman
Christopher Bowen

New Moves Across Europe is the full title of Nikki Milican’s programme at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow. Yet even though Meg Stuart’s two companion dancers in her Disfigure Study are Portuguese, and the piece has largely been funded with European money, there can be no doubt that the thrust of Stuart’s choreography springs from her native New York.

We see it in the easy flow of the body from loose-limbed fluidity to sharp, tight little movements; it manifests itself in de layering of motion, the highs and lows of stretched extensions and squat ground work; and we hear it in the urban jungle beat of Hahn Rowe’s eclectic, babbling score.

Watching Disfigure Study is something akin to voyeurism: everything is pared down and there are no superfluous flourishes of movement. This naked physical vocabulary is used through a series of encounters, either with pars of the dancer’s own body, or with each other.

So we have an opening vignette where a man’s bared legs, picked out in light, hang ominously above the prostate figure of a woman. They move seductively, the woman stirs and begin to caress these strangely severed limbs. The movements grow frantic until the final image of strangled capitulation.

At other points a dancer’s own limbs seem to take on their own lives, probing and attacking their owner’s bodies. In one mesmerising sequence Stuart supports the body of Carlota Lagido by merely holding and manipulating her head. The extraordinary feeling of trust this image conjures is continually jeopardised by the ferocity of the movements, yet it is never broken.

Later, with Francisco Camacho, Stuart engages in a predatory duet; a chase sequence in which the pair slither and slide across the surface of the floor like hungry crocodiles. The sheer quality of movement, from all three participants, is impressive and Stuart’s inventiveness is, at times, breath taking. A dark and often disturbing work Disfigure Study is, nevertheless, the highlight of New Moves so far.

03 Dec 1991
Little Ease

Burt Supree

Meg Stuart, who graduated from NYU’s Tisch school of Arts in 1986 and has been dancing with Randy Warshaw since then, was spurred to her first full-evening piece, Disfigure Study, by a commission from the Klapstuk Festival in Leuven, Belgium. At the Kitchen, violinist/composer Hahn Rowe’s harsh, dark-grained music, performed live, gave unrelieved weight, perhaps too much, and intense, tightly focused lighting by Warshaw isolated the dancers in the gloomy void.

Some of the piece’s five section are narrow but elaborate studies like the opener, in which Francisco Camacho dangles his feet: letting his legs twist, his feet caress each other. (Above the knees his body vanishes in blackness.) Lying below him, Carlota Lagido strains to lift her head and chest, presses her cheek against his feet, rubs against his ankles, like the devotee of a moldering saint. In the closing section, the same two (both from Portugal) stand close to each other, facing in opposite directions, and he rudely runs his hand over her flesh – face, breasts, belly, legs – probing her with ignorant haste. Stiff and submissive, stifling her responses, she hardly moves. Rarely she gets so distressed that she plucks his hand of her. Yet she’ll replace it as if any touch were better than none, as if to instruct him that human contact can be something other than this blind tactile greed.

In the in-place solo that opens that section, Lagido gobbles her hand, lets her crab fingers creep along her body and snag under her arm. There’s a nearly fanatical, medieval sense that the body is a loathsome burden, a curse, something to be cast off. In the fraught, erratic adjustments, the urgent pulls to destroy the body’s symmetry, is portrayed as a deep, terrible, shaming awkwardness.

Stuart’s exhaustive, self-protective solo also evidences this physical unhappiness in the persistent twisting of the body, the way parts of it get stuck on other parts, the way more vigorous movement erupts spasmodically. Her head snuggles against her shoulder comfortlessly, the shoulder is jammed to the chin, she pushes again the back of her rib cage, all as if trying to find a bodily configuration that provides some ease. She suddenly drops, drops, drops to one side as if her bones were jelly. Or slips out of positions she’s momentarily locked into. Or flails and slashes her arms with floppy force. There are no shortcuts: Stuart takes us through every step of her painful, mechanical process.

A duet with Lagido – in which Stuart holds, drops, catches, twists Lagido’s head, slings her around, hauls her close, drags her like a rag doll – is hard-nosed in the same punishing way. Lagido gives herself over beautifully to this brand of manhandling, letting her body follow unquestioningly Stuart’s wrenchings. Yet to trust such obsessed manipulation, to allow oneself to be so totally a toy, is a kind of idiocy.

The urgent fourth section is the dramatic focus of the evening, the most layered in complexity, and satisfyingly dynamic. Camacho, compact and eloquent, methodically holds himself, snakes his arms close to his body, falls with gusto, swiftly collapses. In the back, in very dim light, Stuart and Lagido roll, push up, roll, un unison. Then, while Camacho lies pretzeled on the floor, Stuart struggles toward him, doubling, folding, heaving her body across the floor, deprived of the proper use of her limbs. Whenever she gets next to him, he rolls away, flees faster and faster, and she follows, scrambling after, sliding, throwing herself, floundering like a fish on the deck of a boat, frantic for air. There’s a kind of acid joy in her determination.

But it’s failure that absorbs Stuart- the body’s stubborn, fumbling thickness, its sticky desires and cruel inefficacies. And everyone is shown as damaged goods.